Would replacing Ballmer really goose Microsoft's stock price?

Summary:It's hard to know what Microsoft could do to raise its stock price, which has been stuck in a holding pattern for the past ten years or so.

It's hard to know what Microsoft could do to raise its stock price, which has been stuck in a holding pattern for the past ten years or so.

Strong earnings reports don't seem to affect the Microsoft stock price much. Nor has Microsoft's implementation of cost-control measures, including layoffs. Launching the fastest-selling consumer device didn't help. Nor did buying one of the biggest consumer brands out there.

The latest suggested quick fix for Microsoft's lagging earnings: Fire the CEO. One prominent hedge fund leader is calling for Microsoft's board to oust Steve Ballmer because he is out of touch and stuck in the past.

There were no suggestions from David Einhorn, head of Greenlight Capital -- and owner of just .11 percent of Microsoft's outstanding shares -- as to who might better fill the Microsoft CEO shoes. Instead, Einhorn echoed what a lot of former Softies and other Wall Street watchers have been saying privately, and in some cases, publicly.

As my ZDNet colleague Larry Dignan notes "Einhorn would have to rally a lot of shareholders to his boot Ballmer cause." The two biggest Microsoft shareholders are Chairman Bill Gates and Ballmer himself.

I think replacing Ballmer would be a lot trickier than many think.

Microsoft isn't a company that has a good track record of outsiders (i.e., non-career Softies) thriving. But are there any Softies at the top echelons who have the skill set, personality and cross-company knowledge to run Microsoft? Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner is often mentioned as a possible (though not necessarily popular) internal replacement. I've seen a number of company watchers suggesting Windows President Steven Sinofsky or President of Interactive Entertainment Don Mattrick. Personally, I'm not sure either of these tech-savvy guys have the breadth of product knowledge or the business savvy needed to be CEO.

We're all nothing but armchair pundits, of course (including Einhorn).  I'm curious if any of you readers have suggestions beyond the usual Sinofsky, Mattrick ones. I have to say, even if Microsoft does replace Ballmer in the short term, I am doubtful that the move will please fickle Wall Street analysts who seem to have already decided, in large part, that Microsoft is now more of a Procter & Gamble than an Apple, Google or even IBM competitor....

Topics: CXO, Banking, Microsoft


Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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