January 29 2008: 12:32 PM EST
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Google wins again

Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt on keeping the culture alive at Fortune's No. 1 Best Company to Work For - and how they all promised to stay at Google for 20 years.

By Adam Lashinsky, senior writer

(Fortune Magazine) -- Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and CEO Eric Schmidt take Google's reputation seriously. When informed that Google would be named the best company to work for, for the second year running, they agreed to sit for a rare three-way interview with Fortune's Adam Lashinsky. Here are snippets of the hourlong chat.

How do you maintain Google's culture as the company gets bigger and bigger?

Page: I think as we get bigger, the way we're going to try to maintain our culture is to make sure we have the right-sized groups. I just visited our new office in the Seattle area. It really felt like Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) felt when we were a couple hundred people. There is sort of a natural size for human organizations, and I think to the extent we're able to create groups that are those sizes, we can retain a lot of that culture.

Brin: I actually don't think keeping the culture is a goal. I think improving the culture is. We shouldn't be, like, looking back to our golden years and saying, "Oh, I wish it was the same."

So as you grow, how do you Google-ize the companies you acquire?

Page: We don't. For example, YouTube has remained largely a division. They're in San Bruno [north of the main campus in Mountain View, Calif.] and have their own culture, which is different and cool.

Your perks are famous, but they're not permanent. You recently killed the $5,000 hybrid-car subsidy, for example, and replaced it with a three-tiered incentive that promotes fuel efficiency. Why?

Brin: The goal behind the original policy was that we wanted to encourage cleaner technologies. But by encourage, I don't mean we wanted to subsidize them forever.

By any measure, Google treats employees incredibly well. Is it possible to treat them too well?

Page: My grandfather worked in the auto plants in Flint, Mich. He was an assembly-line worker. During the sit-down strikes he used to carry this long iron pipe with a big chunk of lead on the end when he walked to work.

Schmidt: For what reason?

Page: To protect himself from the company. I still have the hammer. That's two generations ago, and we've come a long way. I don't think any of our employees have to carry such weapons to work. At least I hope they don't. But that's a big change in two generations. It's common sense: Happy people are more productive.

Will you all work at Google for the rest of your careers?

Schmidt: We agreed to work together for how long, gentlemen?

Brin: Twenty years.

Really? When did you make that agreement?

Schmidt: Two years, seven months, and four days ago. But who's counting? Actually, we agreed the month before we went public that we would work together for 20 years. I will be 69, and according to Google I'm going to live to 84, so I should be fine.

Is it possible for a successful company like Google to adequately prepare for the moment when it could suffer a major hiccup? Post your thoughts on the Go West blog.  To top of page

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