Sergey Brin is a firm believer that knowledge is power. As the co-founder of Google, he’s taken that belief to heights that few would ever have thought possible: the very name of his company has become a synonym for finding new information.
Brin’s childhood has been instrumental in giving him a deep abiding respect for the free flow of knowledge. He was born in the Soviet Union to Jewish parents, Mikhail and Yevgenia. Mikhail studied mathematics after his ambitions to become an astronomer were thwarted by the restrictive Communist regime. Frustrated by the roadblocks that were put in their way, the Brin family decided to apply for visas to the US. Mikhail was fired for doing so and Yevgenia quit her job before the same fate was meted out. The application process meant some serious risks: if refused, the two could face a lifetime in Soviet Russia, blacklisted from jobs and shunned by peers. Eventually, they were granted visas, and the family moved when Brin was just six years old. The move paid off for their : Mikhail, since anglicised to Michael, now works as a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland, while Yevgenia (Eugenia) is a research scientist for NASA.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a boy whose father and grandfather were both brilliant mathematicians, young Brin developed an affinity with numbers. He studied computer science and mathematics at the University of Maryland before going to Stanford University to study a PhD in computer science.
It was there that he met Larry Page. The two shared a Jewish heritage and both came from scientific backgrounds. They were both also, , Brin“kind of obnoxious”. Agreeing to disagree on literally everything, they developed a comfortable friendship, and were soon working together. Brin was interested in data mining, Page in cross-citations of source material, and they soon realised the potential for a new and superior search engine.
They filled Page’s room with equipment and turned Brin’s into an office and programming centre to test their search engine designs on the web. The project grew so quickly that Stanford University started experiencing problems with its computer infrastructure. Little wonder, then, that Stanford allowed the pair to suspend their PhD’s and work on their new business full-time. Brin, who never returned to his studies, would later be a Master of Science.
In 1998, with an injection of cash from angel investor Andy Bechtolsheim, Google Inc was in business. Brin and Page left their Stanford rooms to set up in a Californian garage owned by Susan Wojcicki. There, Brin met Susan’s sister Anne, now his wife, and they quickly hit it off.
Google grew steadily over the following years. In 2001, realising they needed some expertise, they hired Eric Schmidt, a seasoned executive, to convince Wall Street that they were serious players. Schmidt proved the perfect counterfoil to Brin’s quirky, playful approach.
In 2004, Brin and Page filed for their initial IPO. Stock rose from $85 to $100 on the first day of trading, passed $500 by the end of 2006, and by 2007, at the tender age of 34, Brin was worth an estimated $15 billion.
Although the company is committed to operating with an ethical centre - its motto is ‘Don’t Be Evil’ - Brin took a few years to plunge into active philanthropy. When his wealth was first realised, he felt himself too young to be making the right decisions. That reticence didn’t last.
In 2010, he brought about , which invests in wind turbines and other renewable energies, supports refugee efforts and promotes racial justice initiatives. He’s a significant investor in Tesla and has explored technologies like lab-grown meat, in an ongoing pursuit to find technological solutions to environmental crises. By 2014 he and his wife were ninth amongst US families in charitable giving.
Wojcicki’s focus, post-Wall Street, has been on genotyping, and she founded the company 23andMe to further those goals. In her testing, she discovered that Brin, whose mother has Parkinson’s disease, carries the gene mutation that puts him as high risk. Since then, he has funded research on various treatments, stepped up his exercise regime and switched from caffeine to green tea. His focus at Google grew outward-looking and ambitious, including establishing , a semi-secret subsidiary focusing on ‘moonshot’ research into blue sky technologies. Some of its projects, including Google Glass and driverless cars, have entered the mainstream.
In 2015, Brin underwent a highly publicised divorce when he began seeing a Google X employee. But underneath the tumult, Brin sails on, unperturbed by the publicity. After all, all information is good information.
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: , , , and .
Image credit: CNET
Image credit: CNET