The folks at Google would have you believe that they've modeled their company on the principles of Warren Buffett.
But investor beware: The more appropriate comparison is Willy Wonka. In their letter to potential shareholders that was included in Google's initial public offering documents filed Thursday, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin paid homage to the values of Berkshire Hathaway's ( BRKA) Buffett: the focus on creating long-term value, not hitting quarterly numbers. The blunt, plain-spoken communication with shareholders. And, one assumes, the promise of fabulous wealth. Yet the picture they paint of how Google is run, and how it should be run, more closely resembles the candy manufacturer run by Willy Wonka in Roald Dahl's classic children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Wonka's chocolate factory is a magical, wonderful place, for those of us lucky enough to get a peek inside its iron gates. But in another light, it represents an preadolescent fantasy. With its chocolate waterfall, its workforce of happy Oompa-Loompas and fantastic inventions like chocolate transported by television, Wonka's factory is certainly the way you wish chocolate would be manufactured. But in the harsh environment of capitalism, one wonders how long the fantasy can really last. That's equally the case at Google, which boasts financials that for now are the envy of the Internet but could soon be squeezed by growing competition from deep-pocketed rivals.
The parallels between Wonka and Google's founders are striking. Both Wonka and the Googlers are legendarily secretive. Both have utter control over their operations and plan to keep it that way -- Page and Brin through a two-class stock structure, and Wonka by giving his factory to a child who will listen to him, not to a grown-up who "will try to do things his own way and not mine." Both are obsessed with their research labs: Wonka has his Television Chocolate and his Everlasting Gobstoppers; Google encourages employees to spend 20% of their time on research and development, and calls its Google Labs Web site "our playground for our engineers and for adventurous Google users."