by Meridith Levinson

Can Google’s New CIO Ben Fried Fill Douglas Merrill’s Shoes?

Apr 25, 20084 mins

Doug Merrill was known as much for his rock star persona as he was for his geeky intellect, but what do we know about Google's new CIO Ben Fried?

Google has hired Ben Fried, a managing director in charge of Morgan Stanley’s application infrastructure, to replace Douglas Merrill in the CIO role. The news of Google’s most recent hire comes just three weeks after Merrill left the search giant to serve as president of EMI Music’s new digital music business.

Ben Fried
Google’s New CIO Ben Fried

Fried has some big shoes to fill in his new role. His predecessor was as famous for his rock star looks and persona (Men’s Health sized up the raven-haired, pierced and tattooed Merrill—who quotes Talking Heads and INXS on his blog—as a tall drink of water standing at 6’4″, 183 lbs. and seven percent body fat in its February 2008 issue) as he was for his Googley mind.

Executive recruiters and Wall Street analysts endorse Google’s selection of Fried, who, they say, had an excellent reputation at Morgan Stanley.

Douglas Merrill
Douglas Merrill

“We think the guy is a really good choice,” says Jeffrey Lindsay, a senior analyst who covers internet companies, including Google, for Sanford C. Bernstein.

Lindsay says Fried’s tenure with the investment bank speaks volumes about his capabilities and credibility. He notes that Fried started as a programmer and worked his way up the career ladder at Morgan Stanley over the course of his career.

“If he’s managed to rise up through the ranks for 14 years at Morgan Stanley, one thing you can say for sure is that he’s able to get along with people and he’s a natural leader,” says Lindsay. “He had to be performing at an extremely high level to get that high in Morgan Stanley.”

From Silicon Alley to Silicon Valley

Lindsay says Fried’s experience managing complex technology will serve him well at Google. Fried knows what it’s like to manage global technology systems that process in real-time transactions worth billions of dollars. Neither Google nor Morgan Stanley can afford for their technology to go down.

Lindsay also thinks that Fried’s knowledge of financial systems and corporate IT will help Google advance Google Finance and Google Apps. “There are a lot of things Google is getting into, like that deal with, that will be much more familiar territory for Ben Fried because of his background,” he says. “If Google is looking to sell Google Apps to Wall Street, which it has, he will be a particularly good CIO to help them in that regard.

Fried vs. Merrill

Shawn Banerji, a recruiter with executive search firm Russell Reynolds in NYC, sees similarities between Fried and Merrill.

“He seems to be cut from cloth that makes sense for Google. He’s uber-intelligent and has done all sorts of interesting things,” Banerji says, referring to software Fried developed for NASA as well as his IT work at Morgan Stanley.

Banerji notes that both Fried and Merrill are “in the neighborhood of 40,” making them “youngish.” They’re also both athletic. Fried writes on his bio that he played a lot of Ultimate Frisbee before knee problems forced him to scale back.

Notably, both technologists worked in the financial services industry before joining Google. Merrill joined from Charles Schwab. Fried and Merrill also have Ivy League educations. Fried graduated from Columbia. Though Merrill earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tulsa, he received his Master’s and PhD degrees in psychology from Princeton.

Whether Fried starts scoring covers on muscle magazines, one thing is certain: His move to Google is a career coup. It gets him out of an industry in financial turmoil, and it’s a big step up. Says Banerji, “He’s going from a place where he was a quasi officer in the cadre of CIO to the number one IT job at Google.”