Steve Ballmer has announced that he will be retiring once the board finds a replacement CEO for Microsoft. This is, I believe, wonderful news for Microsoft, its employees, its customers and its shareholders. Microsoft needs a change at the top. I have my own ideas about what they need and since this is 2013 and I have a blog I’m going to share them.
The first thing I want is someone who lives the values Microsoft says they believe in. What are they? From the Microsoft website
As a company, and as individuals, we value integrity, honesty, openness, personal excellence, constructive self-criticism, continual self-improvement, and mutual respect. We are committed to our customers and partners and have a passion for technology. We take on big challenges, and pride ourselves on seeing them through. We hold ourselves accountable to our customers, shareholders, partners, and employees by honoring our commitments, providing results, and striving for the highest quality.
Steve Ballmer had a “values coach.” While he didn’t go into detail at the meeting I heard this at my impression was that he needed help understanding when things he did violated those values. That scared me. The CEO of a company should be the living embodiment of the company values. Ken Olsen was that at Digital back in the day. People would say “if Ken knew about that he would fix it because it is unethical.” I never heard anyone say that at Microsoft. Illegal or against policy were clear no-nos of course. But “merely” unethical? Not so much. Now I am not saying that a lot of unethical stuff happens but rather that Ballmer was never held up as an example of a super ethical person. The company values should be a description of the CEO. No one looks at that list of values and says “hey that is Steve Ballmer!”
The second thing I want is someone who is open to small ideas. Ballmer pretty much rejected any idea that couldn’t clearly and obviously be a billion dollar business in a few years. The problem with this is that a lot of small ideas do turn out to be huge ideas even though they start very small. Who would have thought that a college facebook app would become what Facebook is today?
The third thing I want is someone who can inspire creative people to come up with things that are totally new. Things that are revolutionary rather than just evolutionary. Evolutionary is the way you keep a cash cow alive not how you create brand new cash cows. See also the second thing I asked for.
I’d rather have someone who came up though a technical track rather than a financial or marketing track. I want someone who starts with problems and solutions rather than cost benefit or “what can we sell.” I want someone who thinks about creating stuff. Marketing people think about selling stuff. Financial people are all about the numbers. Creating solutions is the first task and that is where engineers start.
The question with a company like Microsoft is often – hire from within or from the outside? Outsiders in senior management do not have an outstanding track record at Microsoft. I wonder how much of that is the company culture and how much the fault of the senior long term managers. I don’t know for sure. I do believe that an outsider can do a good job if they find the right person. Ray Ozzie could have been great except that his personality was not the right type to overcome the Ballmer types who were already in power. Engineers liked him. I met him once in a meeting with Bill Gates and frankly was more impressed with Ray than Bill. Ray’s ears worked.
I think the right outsider could work as long as they are not from outside the software industry. Bringing in someone from outside the software industry is a long walk off a short pier.
Last thing (for now) is that I want to see someone who can think about the device as personal. The consumer is where Microsoft started but that part of its business is a mess right now. All the thinking is about the enterprise. Robert Scoble thinks that the company needs to be split into two or more pieces. See A letter to Microsoft’s board. I’m not sure it does but Robert is right about the consumer side needing to be fixed.
Microsoft probably needs a gadget nut for that. Someone who always needs to try and use the latest technology. Someone who thinks about the personal problems people have and thinks about how they can be solved. I believe that in the long term winning back the hearts and minds of the consumer is the best interests of Microsoft’s enterprise business. That is how Google is making its wins in the enterprise. I see that especially in education. Teachers fall in love with Google apps and so the school goes with Google’s enterprise for schools program. I suspect that will happen in more businesses over time as well. It doesn’t matter which is “better” what matters is which is easier and grabs the attention best.
I hope they find someone great and that they find him/her soon. There are too many really smart, creative and all round nice people at Microsoft to see it die.