Steve Ballmer may be the worst CEO among large tech companies - now that Kevin Rollins got booted from Dell and Sanjay Kumar of CA is in jail. Put him in a room with Steve Jobs of Apple, John Chambers of Cisco and Mark Hurd of HP and he'd look like the bouncer, not a peer. He just isn't in their league and Microsoft is suffering for it.
Ballmer became CEO in 2000 after 20 years as a top business manager at the company. He's been intimately involved in company policy for decades. And like many hand-picked successors - like the 2 above - he hasn't measured up.
What hath Steve wrought? If he wasn't Bill's freshman roommate at Harvard - and Bill wasn't majority owner of Microsoft - any other board would have booted Ballmer years ago. He's cost Microsoft billions in profits while the stock price stagnated.
Just to pick some of the most obvious fiascos on his watch:
- The Netscape anti-trust fiasco. Microsoft broke the law. The many follow-on suits by states, competitors like Sun and resellers like Gateway have cost the company over $4 billion, innumerable hours of executive time and the continued attention of European anti-trust regulators. And for what? IE is losing market share and is no more critical to MS success than it was 10 years ago.
- The Google fiasco. Insisting on multiple frontal assaults against Google is pointless and costly. MSN is a money-loser and Microsoft will never catch Google's ad business. But does Ballmer look ahead to the Next Big Thing that changes the game? No, why start now?
- All the other product and market fiascos. Virtualization: late to the game. The Xbox - losing market share to the Wii - will never pay back its investment despite a recent Halo-fueled lurch into profitability. Vista's 5 year development cycle. The continuing security mess. The smart phone failure - a market they should have owned. Major resellers, like Dell, offering Linux. The steadily shrinking cash horde. Continuing anti-trust troubles. The current OOXML debacle.
Any other CEO would have been shown the door years ago.
Missing Google was huge - and avoidable. Google made no secret of the fact 5 years ago that it was hiring the best and the brightest Microsofties. Hundreds left Redmond for Kirkland and Seattle.
That's the early warning signal whose significance Ballmer missed. Those Googlers are rich, while the loyalists are wondering why they stayed. Despite the incredible technologists in Microsoft Research, Ballmer could never get Microsoft on the technical leading edge in new markets.
The Storage Bits take Microsoft is loaded with smart, passionate people who sincerely want to do the right thing. Yet the industry has moved on while Microsoft executives - starting with Ballmer - haven't.
Steve, you've had a good run. You're one of the wealthiest people in the world. You've been integral to one of the greatest business successes of all time. But you've lost your mojo. You aren't the guy Microsoft needs.
Do yourself, Microsoft and Microsoft shareholders a huge favor: resign. Let someone else pick up the reins and, hopefully, take Microsoft to new heights.
Comments welcome, as always. How would you fix Microsoft? One thought: shut down MSN, sell off the assets, and use the billion or so to fund a few hundred software startups. A few are bound to hit if you leave them alone.
Update: True, Jerry Yang of Yahoo is clueless. But as I mentioned yesterday, Yahoo is going out of business because their infrastructure can't compete with Google.