Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates are synonymous with Microsoft’s management and for many years the duo did a fantastic job creating value for customers, shareholders and employees. While the company is far from in trouble, possessing huge amounts of cash and cash flow, it has flopped in many areas which they saw as important. Phones and tablets are a few of these spaces and you may want to add search in as well. Unfortunately these are the products of the future. Sadly, Microsoft is still having trouble being mentioned along with iOS and Android when it comes to a discussion about mobile tech.
For many years there have been calls for Ballmer to step down and finally he will. Now there are calls for Bill Gates to step down as well.
Ballmer’s most recent letter to shareholders from October of 2012 detailed the company’s Apple-fighting strategy and it had many holes and read like a me-too manual from virtually any hardware/software company. I mentioned these flaws at the time and I don’t want to toot my horn but I was 100% accurate on my analysis. One has to assume Gates signed off on the letter or at least was fine with the general direction.
While Gates has done an amazing job creating a company which is absolutely dominant in so many areas, the future will become more challenging as Apple and Google encroach in the software, hardware and mobile space.
Moreover, let’s understand that it is far easier to critique a company which is being clobbered by competitors with cult-like followings than it is to compete with these organizations. Having said that, Samsung is finding a way to take a generic OS and delight its customers with differentiated products. In other words, there is an example of a company competing against Apple and doing it well.
There is a case being made by a number of large investors at the company to have Bill Gates leave. The idea is he will potentially keep fresh ideas from being tried when a new CEO comes in. This could very well be the case and it may be time to remove a person who has such a great amount of influence over the company but whose primary passion is no longer seeing the company win.
This news comes at an interesting time – it seems the public markets have come around to the fact that companies who retain their founders have more value – Google, Apple, Tesla and Amazon are just a few examples. I touched on this idea recently when discussing how Steve Jobs transformed our views on management.
What is being debated now seems to be the exact opposite approach to what has been so successful for so many other companies. I find it hard to believe Gates will be pushed out but then again he may be so interested in his philanthropic pursuits that he will gladly give up his role as Chairman if asked nicely. It’s worth reading the thoughts of TMC’s Tony Rizzo who worked at Microsoft in the early days as he has unique perspective on the matter.