They're brilliant young men and women just out of college, and they're handed more responsibility than many executives enjoy in a lifetime. They're the elite associate product managers of Google, parachuted into top management—like running Gmail or Google Reader—before they're tainted by anyone else's corporate culture. Newsweek tags along on a grueling around-the-globe training trip for the team, and gets an inside look at the Google premise that experience is overrated.
"These are smart people, at the top of their class, but also who have done something entrepreneurial—editor of the yearbook, or started a company," said Jeff Ferguson, the recruiter for the program. "I can tell within five minutes if someone is right for this." One 25-year-old, who "owns" Google Checkout, recalls his father's reaction when he got the job: "They can't possibly be letting you do this."