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Google’s Brent Callinicos: is all business
As the company’s VP, Treasurer and Chief Accountant, with a multitude of employees under him and billions of dollars to manage, Callinicos has definitely achieved his boyhood dream of businessman success.
The odyssey of Brent Callinicos from teenager in South Africa to undergraduate in the United States, to the vice president, treasurer and chief accountant of Google began when the family decided to move to the States and he was sent ahead to live with a cousin he says he met “for an hour, a year before, on vacation” in North Carolina (a place he refers to as his family’s “Plymouth Rock” and “sticking point”).
He eventually enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, his first choice because it was nearby and had a “great undergrad business program,” and because from early on he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
“Most people want to be firefighters, policemen, astronauts, singers,” he says. “I was a boring kid, I guess; business is what I wanted.”
He graduated with a BS in business administration—then went right back to school to get his MBA in finance at its Kenan-Flagler Business School.
“No,” he says candidly. “Even back then it wasn’t the smartest decision.”
Graduate school, he says, is made up of two parts: academic and real-world experience. And in grad school he had classmates with “three, four, five, ten years” of real-world experience under their belt—which was intimidating for him.
[sws_pullquote_left] He has been back to the village in Ithaca where his family lived for thousands of years and did check the records at the local monastery to prove it. Callinicos says he found the experience humbling, adding, “the oldest things in the United States are only a few hundred years old. This isn’t interesting in Europe, especially in Greece.” [/sws_pullquote_left]
And out of grad school he then had to deal with employers who were dubious about his skimpy job record.
But in 1989, right after graduation, he did find a job with Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he worked for nearly three years. He praises the company for giving him a chance to find himself and rack up some much-needed résumé entries. He also touts it for promoting from within and being a “great place for learning.”
His next stop was Burbank, California, where he worked as a Senior Financial Analyst for Walt Disney Records. Ever diplomatic, Callinicos says he “learned something” from each of the companies for which he has worked, but he admits his nine-month stint at Disney “was not a perfect match.”
So he moved on through a veritable who’s who of dream companies, until he found himself in Redmond, Washington working for Microsoft. He entered the company in its early days and was able to watch it expand from “startup to teenager to middle small to mega.” As Microsoft grew, so too did Callinicos’ role in the company. By the time he left in 2007, he had become its CFO, Platforms and Services Division, and watched its employee roster swell from 3000 in 1992 to more than 90,000 fifteen years later.
His first conversation with Google took place in 2002, when the company was still pre-public. However, “it was the height of the .com boom/bust meltdown and just not the right time,” he explains. In 2006, the company contacted him once again through a headhunter and he was “intrigued enough to make the change.”
According to Callinicos, when he began his role as Google’s VP, Treasurer and Chief Accountant in January 2007 the finance department was in its infancy, so “the curve was straight up.” Not only has the amount of people reporting to him grown exponentially, he also has watched the systems he uses mature and the resources at his disposal multiply.
“I’ve had a long career and I don’t do bored well,” Callinicos says. “I’m excited by what I’m doing. There are so many new things…We’ve just scratched the surface.” When asked what his favorite part of working at Google is, Callinicos replies, without hesitation, “the culture.” He then explains that most of the people at Google have “similar DNA…entrepreneurial DNA” and that Google isn’t afraid to let its employees try things that have never been done before. “I’m good at running things, creating things…and Google allows for that,” he adds.
When Callinicos says he hates to be bored, he obviously means it. Aside from his role at Google, he is a board member of EOS Climate, Inc., which deals with sustainable technology and the prevention of greenhouse gas emissions, and an advisor to the risk management companies FiREapps, Inc., and FiNCAD.
Though Callinicos doesn’t speak Greek, he has visited Greece many times throughout his life. The family on his father’s side emigrated from a village in the north of Ithaca in the early 1900s. Though his grandfather and great uncles left around the same time, only Callinicos’ grandfather moved to South Africa, the rest went to the United States. Also, Callinicos’ grandfather was the only one to retain his Greek surname. The rest shortened and “Americanized” it to Collins.
According to Callinicos, he has never met another person with the Greek version of the name who wasn’t a relation. Also, though there is no shortage of Collinses in America, none have hit him up for a job claiming to be a long lost cousin…yet.
Despite the lengthy ferry journey from Athens and “scary” hike to the top of the island, he has been back to the village in Ithaca where his family lived for thousands of years and did check the records at the local monastery to prove it. Callinicos says he found the experience humbling, adding, “the oldest things in the United States are only a few hundred years old. This isn’t interesting in Europe, especially in Greece.”
This past May he was presented with the Hellenic American Bankers Association’s highest honor, the Executive of the Year Award. Though Callinicos is an old hat at receiving accolades (he was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Finance” by Treasury and Risk Magazine in 2009 and Risk Magazine’s “Corporate Risk Manager of the Year” in 2002, just to name a few), HABA’s gala marked his first time he was being honored by the Greek business community. After being presented with the award by mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis, Callinicos gave a short speech, giving thanks and speaking about his role at Google. Then, unconventional as ever, he invited attendees to partake in a question and answer session about his life and work.
As Google’s VP, Treasurer and Chief Accountant, with a multitude of employees under him and billions of dollars to manage, Callinicos has definitely achieved his boyhood dream of businessman success. However, he isn’t ready to relax just yet. Callinicos speaks about Google’s fearlessness regarding new projects and how the company is growing and evolving, but when asked about what’s next he has a simple yet promise-laden answer.