Google chief executive Eric Schmidt is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for his potentially improper relationship with electronics giant Apple. The FTC believes that Mr. Schmidt's directorships at the two companies, which compete in at least one sector, cell phones, may constitute a breach of antitrust laws. However, despite the government pressure, Mr. Schmidt refuses to give up his relationship with Apple.
Eric Schmidt invested heavily in Apple over the last decade and on August 28, 2006 he was awarded with a position on Apple's board of directors. Mr. Schmidt described his love for Apple, stating, "Apple is one of the companies in the world that I most admire. I'm really looking forward to working with Steve and Apple’s board to help with all of the amazing things Apple is doing."
Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs returned the love, stating, "Eric is obviously doing a terrific job as CEO of Google, and we look forward to his contributions as a member of Apple’s board of directors. Like Apple, Google is very focused on innovation and we think Eric’s insights and experience will be very valuable in helping to guide Apple in the years ahead."
Over the last few years, as a director at Apple, he has been responsible in part for designating broad policies and objectives, approving budgets, and completing other financial management. Despite the jeopardy that Mr. Schmidt is currently in, he is fighting to retain his position.
He spoke to reporters at Google's Mountain View Headquarters in California, insisting that the relationship was on level, stating, "If there are issues on competitiveness, I recuse myself. From my perspective I don't think Google sees Apple as a primary competitor."
When asked if he might quit Apple, he stated "it hasn't crossed my mind."
Also under investigation is Arthur Levinson, former CEO of Genetech, who also serves on both boards. Google's legal counsel Kent Walker believes that tie is legal, stating, "The law is clear that there is a safe harbour under the Clayton Act for companies that don't have overlapping revenue in different areas, and we're comfortable with that position."
Some shareholders are angry with Mr. Schmidt’s relationship with Apple, though. Brandon Rees, a representative of a group of major shareholders, states, "There is nothing to gain and a lot to lose. We don't want Google to become an antitrust devil like Microsoft did."
If Mr. Schmidt is found in violation of antitrust laws it would be a major blow for Google. He would likely have to pick between his two worlds -- his life with Google, and his love for Apple.