Today I'm going to tell you about a technology stock that, within the next two months, I'll be putting $4,000 of my own money into. I'm so confident that my pick will outperform the market that, should I sell any shares within the next three years, I'll donate $100 to charity.
This is the second article in a series in which I'm writing about my retirement portfolio, which I'm dubbing "The Cheesehead Portfolio," in honor of my home state of Wisconsin. If you wish to see my first selection for the portfolio, check out my first article:
Three years from now, I fully expect today's pick -- Google
These guys stand for something
I try not to get emotional when investing. Study after study after study has shown that doing so only leads to investing troubles. But I can't help getting excited by the fact that Google's founders, Larry Page (now CEO) and Sergey Brin, have taken over the reins.
For starters, they don't give lip service to aligning themselves with shareholders' interests. They've voluntarily elected to receive only nominal cash compensation for the past three years.
Salary (Three-Year Average)
Bonus (Three-Year Average)
Stock and Option Awards
|Larry Page||$1.00||$1,171.33||--||--||$ 1,172.33|
|Sergey Brin||$1.00||$1,148.33||--||--||$ 1,149.33|
Source: Google DEF 14-A.
This isn't one of those tables where everything is "in millions," or even "in thousands." Those are the actual yearly salaries these two have elected to receive. The real source of their wealth comes from their ownership in Google's Class B common stock. Together, they owned 78.7% of these shares on Dec. 31, 2010. I'm comforted that their future wealth is tied to the same stock price that my retirement money will be tied to.
A rapidly changing field
Make no mistake about it: Google exists in a market where creative destruction can change things in the blink of an eye. And some people readily criticize Google for lacking a clearly defined focus. Among the skeptics' questions:
- Is Google going to focus on the cloud? The "cloud" is a far-reaching term, and Google will need to face host of competitors in various segments here, most notably Amazon.com
, Rackspace Hosting (Nasdaq: AMZN) , and -- with the release of iCloud -- Apple (NYSE: RAX) . (Nasdaq: AAPL)
- Is Google going to focus on its smartphones? The Android operating system now has a 50% market share in the United States -- twice that of Apple's iOS -- but Google offers it for free. That's a calculated strategy.
- Will Google have any success in large foreign markets such as China or Russia, where Baidu
and Yandex (Nasdaq: BIDU) have significant market share in search? (Nasdaq: YNDX)
- Could Microsoft's
Bing really bring down Google's search engine? (Nasdaq: MSFT)
With Page taking over, these are valid questions. He has ramped up research-and-development costs significantly -- 50% last quarter. When investors don't know where that money is going, they become uncertain.
The market hates uncertainty like that.
Why I'm not worried
As we face all of these questions, let's get one thing straight: Google makes 97% of its revenue from advertising. It's always been that way, and in my opinion, it always will be.
The challenge, then, is simply for Google to remain relevant. As long as it's relevant, people will use its products, and as long as people use Google's products, people will see those all-important, targeted advertisements.
But here a paradox emerges: Investors aren't crazy about the high R&D expenses, but they need Google to remain relevant. To do that, Google has to commit significant amounts of money to R&D. And those funds need to translate into relevant products.
There's no crystal ball to tell us what will be relevant three years from now, and I'm betting Page and Brin are well aware of that. What sets them apart from the pack is their approach to this conundrum.
Trust the process
In his most recent work, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, best-selling author Daniel Pink highlights what he believes employees really want out of their work. And it ain't money. In no particular order, they want autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
I'm not sure whether Page has read Pink's book, but a statement in Google's most recent 14-A makes it seem possible: "[Monetary] incentives are secondary to career growth, work environment, and engaging work opportunities. We seek to develop a highly motivated and collaborative workforce that pursues achievements for the sake of progress and innovation."
One of the most notable outgrowths from this holistic approach is what Google calls "20-percent time." One day out of the week, all Google employees are encouraged to work on anything they want, especially if it doesn't relate to their day-to-day assignments. Some of Google's more successful ventures have come from "20-percent time," including Gmail, Google News, and Google Translate, to name a few.
As long as these approaches are in place at the company, I have confidence that Google will remain relevant and prosper.
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