Back in my dad's generation, there was a perception of success if you could land a good job with a good company where you could spend the next 40 years or so collecting a paycheck and then eventually a pension. You were faithful to your company and, over the years, the company rewarded you with pay raises, promotions and maybe a nice watch after 25 years or so.
Today, you don't see a lot of that. People - especially in the tech industry - move around at a faster pace. Maybe it's the lure of more money, a more flexible work schedule or just the opportunity to be more innovative that drives people to change jobs every few years or so. After all, no one wants to feel stale - stuck in a job where you're no longer making a difference.
In a sense, that's where Microsoft is now with CEO Steve Ballmer, who celebrates his 11th year as chief executive today. In a post this morning, colleague Mary Jo Foley reflects on the state of Steve Ballmer as the CEO of Microsoft. She notes that, increasingly, she's hearing cries for Ballmer to move on, for the company's board of directors to toss him out the way AMD's board of directors pushed aside CEO Dirk Meyer just a few days ago. But that's probably an unlikely scenario.
After all, it's hard to ignore Microsoft's quarterly financial reports. In October, the company reported strong Q1 numbers, with net income up 25 percent year-over-year as the twin cash cows - Windows and Office - continued to shine from an upgrade cycle. Likewise, Xbox carried the entertainment division.
But AMD's Meyer getting the boot seemed to have less to do with the quarter-after-quarter numbers and more to do with his failure to execute in mobile, an area that seems to be a high priority for the board. The same could be said for Ballmer. The company is barely in the smartphone war and really doesn't have much to offer in terms of tablets. But the lack of real vision from the top didn't really didn't ring true until Ballmer delivered a dismal, vision-less keynote speech to kick off this year's Consumer Electronics Show.
At the time, I wrote that it may be time to yank Microsoft off of the keynote stage. But maybe it's not Microsoft that needs to go. Maybe it's Ballmer.
Microsoft, the company, seems to have a lot of life in it - and certainly, this isn't one of those "Microsoft is dead" types of posts. The financials prove that Microsoft is still a force in the tech industry. But for how long? Trends are shifting. The competitive landscape in smartphones, tablets and even living room hubs (which is really what the Xbox is becoming) is getting more and more fierce.
Ballmer seems to have lost the vision - and, as Foley points out, there seems to be a "brain drain" happening at the mid-management and technical management levels of the company. Foley writes:
These individuals are the ones with institutional knowledge and staff loyalties that are hard to replace, and whose expertise is now benefiting Microsoft’s foremost competitors. That growing list of departures has started to give me pause and make me question my Ballmer backing….
The board may have some tough decisions to ponder over the coming year as it relates to the future of the company and the person who will lead it into the next generation. At this point, Ballmer doesn't seem to be that guy. He's been at Microsoft for more than 30 years and in the CEO position for 11 years now.
If that sort of tenure isn't a recipe for stale, I don't know what is.