The Good News From Google

A Conversation With Ruth Porat

Ruth Porat

  • Country: United States
  • Title: Chief Financial Officer, Alphabet
  • Education: Stanford; London School of Economics; University of Pennsylvania Wharton School

Ruth Porat has taken an unusual path to the tech world. Before becoming the chief financial officer at Google in May 2015 (and then at Alphabet, Google’s new parent company, a few months later), she held the same post at Morgan Stanley, where among other roles she worked closely with the U.S. government to sort out the troubles at the insurance corporation AIG and the mortgage-financing agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac during the 2008 financial crisis. On the shortlist to become deputy treasury secretary in 2013 (before she withdrew her name), Porat, who Politico once referred to as “the most powerful woman on Wall Street,” is now one of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley as well. Some six months into the new job, she met with Foreign Affairs’ managing editor, Jonathan Tepperman, in New York to discuss her move and the global economy.

Tell me about the transition from a Wall Street bank to the quintessential Silicon Valley tech firm. Conventional wisdom holds that banks are stodgier than companies like Google. Is that true, and what lessons can Wall Street learn from Silicon Valley? 

The transition was easier than I would have expected. I stayed at Morgan Stanley for 27 years because it was fun. I kept learning. And during the 1990s, when I ran tech banking, I was working with great Internet companies right in that explosive period. So there were a lot of similarities.

It’s been invigorating being back on the West Coast, being at Alphabet, because there is so much innovation. And the big challenge is, how do you think about resource allocation and priorities when you have so many great options? But wearing jeans instead of suits and popping into driverless cars has also been a lot of fun.

But is there anything particular to the Google approach that the larger business community, whether it’s banking or bricks and mortar, could profit from?

A key framework that we talk about quite a bit, and

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