Newsletter Issue #717: The Microsoft Death Watch: One Down!

August 26th, 2013

It’s certainly true that outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had plenty of confidence. Sometimes too much confidence, they say, as he could be somewhat overbearing; well, maybe not somewhat. But he certainly hung around Redmond for a long time, having joined the company run by his pal Bill Gates in 1980 in a sales capacity.

In 2000, he replaced Gates as CEO, while Gates remained as Chairman. Since then, Ballmer’s tenure has been mixed, and in recent years it’s become clear he’s been looking in the wrong direction to remake the company.

It’s telling that Wall Street quickly betrayed its lack of confidence in Ballmer. Within minutes after his impending departure was announced, the stock went up at a much faster rate than usual. That doesn’t say a lot about Ballmer’s ability to handle the job, though it’s also true that the stock price increase, if it holds up, ended up increasing his personal fortune by over a billion dollars. So there’s no reason to feel said that he’s going to soon be out of a job.

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3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #717: The Microsoft Death Watch: One Down!”

  1. dfs says:

    Good to see Balmer going, I never liked the guy, but let’s not make the mistake of bad historians and see everything in terms of individual personalities. There’s something very, very wrong with Microsoft’s internal culture. My own guess is that the difficulty is that whenever a bright employee (and I don’t doubt there are plenty of these) comes up with an innovative idea, it has to be filtered through so many committees, jump through so many bureaucratic hoops, and coexist with so many competing interests (“hey, how would that affect MY project?”) that by the time it gets out the other end it’s virtually unrecognizable. “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.” Steve ran Apple in such a dictatorial way that he could ramrod any idea he liked, his personal endorsement won the whole battle, so at least during those years Apple didn’t suffer from anything remotely like this syndrome. Time will tell about how Apple deals with innovation in the post-Steve era. Whoever the next CEO is, it is highly doubtful that he will have the authority, charisma, and just plain guts to run MS along those lines, which means that, with or without Balmer, MS will continue conducting business as usual.

  2. dfs says:

    That’s the guts part. Problem is, there are no doubt plenty of people at MS who like things just fine the way they are, a real mover and shaker would have to dethrone a lot of empire-builders within the company. And even if somebody wanted to do this, would the Board of Directors give him the authority? I’m one of many, many observers who believes that the only sane solution to MS’s endemic problems is to break it up into a series of individual companies, and let each one go its own way, sink or swim.

    Before I retired, I worked for an extremely large organization, and I know that bigness entails a lot of problems that smaller outfits can keep under control. When I joined up in the late 70’s I could usually talk to my boss just by knocking on his door (which was never closed anyway) By the time I retired I needed a two-week appointment just to speak with one of his successor’s flunkeys. A bureaucratic move that once took one side of a single sheet of paper now takes a file thick enough to stop a rifle bullet and far too many people get to read and comment on that folder before it reaches its final destination. This just isn’t an atmosphere in which things get done quickly or well, everybody’s always stumbling over each others’ feet.

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