Megan Smith, a Google executive little known outside Silicon Valley, is taking a high-profile role running the search engine's in-house charity. She's part of a power couple whose louder half is AllThingsD blogger Kara Swisher.
Smith is replacing Google.org's current chief, Larry Brilliant, who's getting put out to pasture with some vague job involving "philanthropy evangelism." (In Hollywood, they give retiring executives producer deals; in Silicon Valley, they make you an "evangelist," a flowery marketing title which really means you get paid to give speeches at conferences and have lunch with people who also don't matter.) She'll now oversee do-gooding investments, like Google's push into renewable energy and disease tracking. That's on top of her day job wrangling deals with Google partners like MySpace (a relative success) and Facebook (an abject failure). She's close to founder Sergey Brin, a source of considerable soft power in the supposedly unhierarchical company.
Meanwhile, her spouse, Swisher, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, gets most of her power in the industry from running D, an annual tech-CEO conference she organizes with Walt Mossberg, the paper's powerful gadget reviewer. Mossberg gave Swisher away at the couple's first, unofficial wedding; the couple later got officially married before the passage of Proposition 8, California's gay-marriage ban.
Swisher has a lengthy disclaimer about the relationship on her AllThingsD tech blog, and the couple have wrapped up Smith's Google holdings in trusts so Swisher can reasonably claim she doesn't control them. People in the industry still look askance at the relationship, questioning how Swisher might have an ulterior motive when she's tough on Google competitors like Yahoo and Microsoft. As Smith's ambit grows, those questions will rise in volume.
But Swisher causes as much trouble at work for Smith as Smith causes for Swisher. The latter's savage reporting on the antitrust implications of Google selling ads on Yahoo helped derail an agreement between the companies, and almost got Google sued by the government. Smith's job makes things difficult for Swisher as a reporter; Swisher's reporting gets Smith's bosses in hot water with the feds. If these two are still together, it must be love.
(Photo by Lane Hartwell)