With quiet star, Microsoft targets Google's search dominance

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Last Friday, DailyFinancerevealed the existence of Microsoft's secret Washington D.C.-based "Screw Google" meetings -- regular gatherings of its Capitol Hill lobbyists, public relations consultants, and other third parties where the top agenda item was to devise new and innovative ways to throw roadblocks at Google in the legal, regulatory, and public relations arenas.

But lest anyone think that Microsoft's only line of attack against Google -- and Apple, its other primary competitor -- lies in the black arts, a New York Times story today illustrates the other, more conventional ways that Microsoft fights Google, by focusing on the wonderful Qi Lu, the un-prepossessing engineer who grew up in poverty in rural China, only to one day head Yahoo's search efforts, and now lead Microsoft's efforts with Bing to try and dent Google's overwhelming lead in internet search advertising.

Needless to say, even if the Justice Department approves Microsoft's ten-year search ad deal with one-time search player Yahoo, Google will still dominate the market. So Mr. Lu's challenge is great indeed.

"I have the highest respect for him," Udi Manber, a VP of engineering for search at Google, who worked with Lu at I.B.M. and Yahoo, told the Times. "He is probably the best competition I can have."

Lu, whom the Times describes as having a "maniacal work ethic," has already scored an early win, convening nightly 9:30 p.m. meetings over several weeks to seal the search deal with Yahoo's new CEO Carol Bartz and her team. Lu sleeps three to four hours a night, according to the Times. "On most weekdays, he wakes up around 4 a.m., goes through his e-mail and runs four miles on a treadmill while listening to classical music or watching the news," the paper reports. Lu "prefers" to be in his office between 5 and 6 a.m. -- and who doesn't? -- to "have uninterrupted time to prepare for his day."

After leaving Yahoo as part of a "long-planned" departure, Lu returned to the game after Microsoft chieftain Steve Ballmer, who is known for his persuasiveness, personally recruited him.

"I do think that this is answering a call to duty," Times reporter Miguel Helft quotes Lu as saying, and adds that the soft-spoken 47-year-old, "feels duty-bound not to squander the rare opportunity he was given. He was raised by his grandparents in a rural village with no electricity or running water."

After university, Lu rose quickly through the ranks of engineers at Yahoo, and though he shunned the limelight, "he was considered one of the stars of Yahoo," Tim Cadogan, CEO of Open X, an advertising technology company, tells the paper.

There are never too many "American Dream" stories for me, and this is a stellar one. To be sure, Lu faces an uphill battle leading Microsoft's search assault on Google, but if anyone can topple Google's dominance -- and it's not at all clear if that's possible at this point -- Lu may just be the man. "There is lots and lots and lots of work ahead of us," he acknowledges. That is an understatement.
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