Laszlo Bock '99, VP People Operations, Google
In 2006 alone, 1.2 million people tried to get his attention. This past year, more than two million sent their resumes his way. In short, Laszlo Bock ’99 is a very popular man.
Bock is the vice president of people operations at Google, or in non-Google speak, the head of human resources for the company. But like much about Google, it’s anything but a traditional HR job, encompassing all aspects of employee health and well-being. In certain circles, he’s practically a celebrity. He’s given speeches across the country on how Google treats its employees and has testified before Congress on the H1B foreign skilled worker visa program. The general public doesn’t know him; surely few applying to Google have ever heard of him. But as a member of Google’s Executive Management Group, he’s right in the middle of one of the decade’s most dynamic corporations, one that added 7,000 employees last year alone.
“There’s a very deliberate managed chaos here,” he said. “We try to take the best and brightest from every school, every company, every country, all with a shared sense of, ‘We don't really like hierarchy, and we really like getting things done, and we like trying crazy things,’ and put them together.”
Bock’s been on the job since early 2006, following a career that included stops at General Electric and McKinsey. At General Electric, he ran a portion of human resources for one of the company’s financial businesses, GE Capital Solutions, where he says he loved the job and had no intention of leaving. But then he received a call from Google. “When it’s Google,” he said, “you take the call.” What most impressed him during his interviews at Google was not just the talent of the people he met, but the emphasis the company puts on experimentation and innovation. This extended to human resources, usually a more conservative occupation.
The best way to understand the scope of his job is to see Google not just as a company that creates products but one that in some ways operates as its own city (or cities, since the company has operations in more than 25 locations in the United States alone). There are restaurants on the campuses, where the food is always free. There is daycare, massage, on-site healthcare, a concierge service, on-site oil change and car wash, dry cleaning, a hair stylist, and a bike shop. Bock oversees all of them. He’s also in charge of benefits (for a peek, click here) and employee retention. And, of course, he oversees hiring.
“We’ve done some things no other company has done in terms of people operations,” he said. “We have a lot of green programs, such as hybrid car subsidies. We’ve created entirely new reward systems, like our Tradable Stock Options. The underlying notion is, ‘How can we make this a great place to work, so that people are excited about contributing here, and are able to be efficient both here and in their personal lives? Are people delighted? How do they work and play together? And how can we make that better?’”
Bock hadn’t planned to go into human resources. After he graduated from Pomona College in 1993, he worked at a nonprofit he started while in school called Peer Group Opportunities, and stumbled into acting, landing a handful of small parts on “Showtime kinds of movies,” as he called them before quickly adding, “Nothing inappropriate.” He dabbled in financial analysis at a private equity-funded building products company before joining Hewitt Associates as a consultant. He enrolled in SOM to broaden his business knowledge, and joined McKinsey upon graduating in 1999, where he led teams focused on the high-tech and private equity industries. “I lived the life-cycle of the dot-com boom,” he said. “It was several years of growth strategy and marketing work, followed by several years of turn-around and operations work.”
After four years at McKinsey, Bock decided he missed dealing with “people-related” issues and took a job as head of compensation for an arm of GE Capital. Then Google called.
“Part of the reason I went into people operations is because you do have a very broad mandate,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to help Google continue to scale at an unprecedented pace.”
Bock stresses that MBA students would be remiss to ignore this area as a potential field. There have been dramatic changes in the nature of labor markets in the past 15 years. He said that while companies have spent decades focusing on how to sell more and operate more efficiently, very few have been as thoughtful on the topic of how to best instill a balance of autonomy, collaboration, and innovation among their people. “This is the next major area of transformation in business,” he said. “Connecting the dots between the business and analytical skills you acquire at Yale SOM and the ‘finishing school’ of operational experience in consulting, banking, or brand management, creates a powerful combination. And not a lot of people with that training go into HR. That creates an immense opportunity to change the profession and build something unique. For people with the right skill set, you can move very quickly and make a huge difference.”
Obviously, most HR jobs aren’t as appealing as Google’s. The company carries a tremendous amount of cache. But Bock tends to downplay his new position when he meets people socially for the first time. “Usually if asked, I’ll say I’m at Google, and then if pressed that I’m in people ops,” he said. “I can be pretty vague about my specific role and title because I find conversations more interesting (and honest) if people don’t know I lead the function.”