HolidayBuyer's Guide

Google founders' heady purchase

Glancing at the front page of the Wall Street Journal on Friday, you might initially roll your eyes (yet another Google story) and then hungrily set in to read the mid-page column on the Google boys' new luxury Boeing 767-200 airplane.

It could be like a new reality show called "Lifestyles of the Rich and Nerdy: Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin start spending some of their combined net worth of $20 billion!" Woohoo!

But reading the detailed article (subscription required), you probably won't get a big fix of greedy opulence that's characteristic of those wealth-obsessed reality shows so popular in America.

Instead, what shines through, at least to me, are the personalities of Page and Brin--who are typically thrifty when it comes to spending on themselves. These are two 32-year-olds who've driven the environmental Toyota Prius and continued to live in apartments near Palo Alto even after they came into money. More than that, they are also idealistic, secretive, methodical, and of course, mathematical.

First, secretive. The purchase of the airplane first surfaced months ago on the blog of Jeff Nolan, a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.

Even though the two Google founders keep their lives and their company's new products close to the vest, newsworthy tidbits often leak out somewhere in a kind of Karmic thumb-nosing at their clandestine efforts. The WSJ had to track down the purchase of the 767 from filings from Federal Aviation Administration documents, which were still inclusive. A phone number on the papers did lead the WSJ to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, however.

That's part of the fun of this type of story.

Frugal. In a world where CEOs buy brand new Gulfstream 550 business jets like they were toilet paper for the office, Larry and Sergey found a used beast of an airplane that typically flies 180 people, but when overhauled, could transport 50 people on long trips.

They reportedly paid under $15 million for the plane, but are likely paying tens of millions more to redo the interior for comfort. It will have two bathrooms, a shower and a large dinning room; and of course, Internet access. A Gulfstream costs roughly $45 million and transports about 15 people.

Idealistic. Larry Page, quoted in the article, said "part of the equation of this sort of machinery is to be able to take large numbers of people to places such as Africa. I think that can only be good for the world." The Foundation is currently doing philanthropic work in Africa.

Finally, methodical and mathematical. The plane is for personal use so the two Google founders likely calculated that for a roundtrip coast-to-coast flights it would cost them $260 per flight hours using the 767. With a Gulfstream V, it would cost $400 per flight hours. That's smart math.