Microsoft's Ballmer: If I had it to do all over again...

Microsoft's Ballmer: If I had it to do all over again...

Summary: Steve Ballmer's last three years as CEO is the subject of Businessweek's cover story this week. Here's what I found interesting in the story.

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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is no more Mr. Monkeyboy.

That's the premise of the new January 12 Businessweek cover story about how Ballmer has put his stamp on Microsoft over the past few years.

To me, the most interesting bit came at the very end of the multi-page piece, where Ballmer conceded that he and Chairman Bill Gates might have done better to spend less time on vision and more time on the actual product development process. From the story:

"During a reflective moment, Ballmer says that if he had it to do all over again, he would dedicate more time to watching over the development process of products rather than just issuing a vision to his employees. “I’d say probably Bill and I were spending a lot more of our energy on where to go,” he says. 'And we should balance our energy better on how to make sure we’re going to get where we want to go.'”

I think many current (and former) Softies, not to mention many customers and partners, would most likely concur with that statement.

A couple of other lines that stood out to this Microsoft watcher:

  • “People might have missed this fact, but I got a new job three and a half years ago,” Ballmer says, referring to Gates’s retirement from day-to-day activities at Microsoft. (Not everyone missed that watershed moment. But Microsoft execs did their best at the time to try to make sure that everyone did.)
  • "Ballmer has replaced almost every major division head at Microsoft and overseen a dramatic shift away from the company’s PC-first heritage. He ordered the product groups to work together instead of operating as talent-hoarding fiefdoms." (I'd give former Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie some of the credit for working to break down silos. Ozzie is yet another of those who is gone, and Ballmer has said he doesn't see a need -- at least for now -- for someone in the Chief Software Architect role.)
  • "Microsoft grew up doing massive launches every three to five years for its blockbuster products. Now its rhythms have started to change." (One place they still haven't changed is in the Windows division, however. Windows is still on an every 2.5 to 3 year release cycle, as is the accompanying Windows Live Essentials bundle of add-on services.)
  • "Lady Gaga, he likes. 'Gnarls Barkley, I hate,' he says." We also know Ballmer has a room where he can privately break bread in some unnamed Bellevue, Wash. steakhouse. (El Gaucho? John Howie's? Daniel's? Bing it, baby!)

There's no mention in the Businessweek story as to when Ballmer plans to retire -- something Ballmer said back in 2008 that he planned to do around 2018 -- or of the constant nagging by Wall Street for him to do so because of the stagnant stock price. Maybe that's the point: The Redmond management is hoping to put to rest the impression that Ballmer is teetering on the brink of be ousted or leaving any time soon.

One more time: Bill Gates is gone and he's not coming back.

Topics: Enterprise Software, CXO, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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55 comments
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  • Ballmer? _Vision_?

    Wow. The idea that Ballmer et. al. spent too much time on vision is the most laughable thing yet - funnier even than Gates/Ballmer repeatedly laughing at products that would go on to become market-dominant. Those guys never even saw the internet until long after the rest of the world did.<br><br>A visionless Board and particularly visionless CEOs is why MS has lost about a third of shareholder value in the last few years.
    Allen_Wentz
    • RE: Microsoft's Ballmer: If I had it to do all over again...

      @Allen_Wentz - Erm. 3 years ago today, Microsoft's stock was trading at around $19.71. Today it's trading at $27.91 - an increase of almost 30%.

      Therefore, if you bought MS stock three years ago today, you'd have a 30% increase in value today.

      MS isn't visionless. Far from it.

      But it has had a number of difficult years, all while operating under DOJ oversight as part of the consent decree. This oversight ended in March 2011. Now MS can return to really competing, but in a far more ethical way than the rough and ready bar brawling evident throughout the industry during the mid to late '90's.

      Microsoft has been executing very well indeeed in terms of product delivery over the last 3 years Windows 7, Office 2010, Office 365, XBox & Kinect, Visual Studio 2010 all winning significant accolades. Even Windwos phone - a completely brand new phone UXP, OS & platform, which has been in the market for just over a year now is starting to gain significant accolades and interest.

      I think that stating that Microsoft is utterly clueless is somewhat ignorant and myopic.
      bitcrazed
      • yeah its easy to bash M$

        @bitcrazed But you are correct, they do have some good products too.

        XBOX 360 has been a quiet success...bashed all the time in these comments as being non-profitable..but it's done quite well in the marketplace.
        otaddy
      • RE: Microsoft's Ballmer: If I had it to do all over again...

        @bitcrazed
        But microsoft stock price have remained the same from almost 10 yrs ago..
        It had it ups and down but the price is pretty much remained the same give or take 2 dollars..
        Anthony E
      • RE: Microsoft's Ballmer: If I had it to do all over again...

        @bitcrazed

        Ignoring the long term trend in the stock is a good example of myopic.
        curph
      • RE: Microsoft's Ballmer: If I had it to do all over again...

        @bitcrazed Ok I will bite... Here are other tech names 3 years ago, ok? Remember you pointed out, not I. And you happen to have picked the lowest point. So I will do the same.

        IBM : 80 -> 180 = 125%
        AAPL: 90 -> 425 = 372%
        AMZN: 42 -> 172 = 311%
        INTC: 12 -> 25 = 108%

        Do I need to go on? Ballmer bites doughnuts! He needs to be fired because he is incapable of guiding Microsoft and getting people excited about the company. There is NOTHING positive that Ballmer has done that has not been done earlier before his time.

        Yes yes Windows Phone 7 is out. But is it selling? Did it come out on time? Not even Kinect was Microsoft's own invention. They only managed to get access to it because Steve Jobs refused to sign a contract. Otherwise Apple would have sold yet another technology that Microsoft missed.

        I will correct the phrase and say Microsoft *management* is utterly clueless and imbecile!
        serpentmage
      • RE: Microsoft's Ballmer: If I had it to do all over again...

        @bitcrazed "Erm. 3 years ago today, Microsoft's stock was trading at around $19.71. Today it's trading at $27.91 - an increase of almost 30%."<br><br>MS market capitalization 2005-2008 was ~$280 B - 330 B; this last year has averaged ~$220 B. _Huge_ loss of shareholder value.<br><br>Over the same period Apple, for instance, went UP more than 300%.<br><br>MS execs get fat while shareholders lose their butts.<br><br>-Allen
        Allen_Wentz
      • RE: Microsoft's Ballmer: If I had it to do all over again...

        @bitcrazed "But it has had a number of difficult years, all while operating under DOJ oversight"<br><br>Duh. MS horribly stifled true innovation through its ILLEGAL business practices, and you are treating it as some kind of uncontrolled outside influence? MS were bad guys with a net stifling effect on tech innovation, and in spite of huge legal resources appropriately lost on two continents. <br><br>MS illegal behavior was intentional and falls to Gates and his Board. Without the Bush administration bailing them out consequent to $$ contributions MS would be in even worse shape.
        Allen_Wentz
      • RE: Microsoft's Ballmer: If I had it to do all over again...

        @Allen_Wentz
        microsoft never asked or got bailout money from washington, that was an april fool joke from infoworld.

        microsoft didn't prevent innovation in the tech sector IMHO; in fact they have only enabled it with common APIs like DirectX, and pushing a common desktop standard every year, upping the spec of hardware and software. Did some product or company have problem pushing their product? Perhaps -like android tablets stuggeling against ipad today, or any other vs a stronger competitor - but that's not what innovation really is, and where it has mainly taken place in the last two decade. look at a company like Autodesk, Apple, Adobe, google, all the internet companies, how were they prevented from innovating? there were not. a great desktop OS, pervasive internet browsers, common hardware standards, API to get the grunt work done, all are enablers, or at least didn't get in the way of the world moving on. Platforms help innovation.
        fredericr
      • RE: Microsoft's Ballmer: If I had it to do all over again...

        @bitcrazed - It never fails to amaze me how many people measure a company's performance by its stock price alone.

        The ONLY think governing a company's stock price are the whims of major stock market traders. Most stock market traders are 25-30 year old flyboys who are concerned, not about the companies they trade, but about the value of their portfolio. They're easily excitable and eager to create and follow trends.

        A FAR better measure of a company's performance are its revenue and profit numbers. If a company generates significant profits vs. overall revenues then it's doing something right.

        Microsoft is one of the most profitable companies in the world. in FY 2011, for example, Microsoft generated more than $23Bn net profit vs. $18Bn for 2010.

        Apple is enjoying very healthy numbers today too - $26Bn in 2011.

        Microsoft and Apple are both well ahead of IBM and the three are the only IT tech companies in the top 10 most profitable companies in the world.

        If, on the other hand, you were to measure the "value" of Google, that generated $8.5Bn in profit last year and which makes money from one source only - search & advertising - how would you logically be able to determine that it had a value even close to approaching Microsoft or Apple?

        Put it this way - if Google went out of business tomorrow, what would be the impact: everyone would switch to a different search engine and ad' network (of which there are plenty). Phone manufacturers already have the source to their free OS. I don't think anyone would miss ChromeOS.

        Now imagine if Microsoft decided to close down tomorrow: the world would be thrown into turmoil.
        bitcrazed
      • RE: Microsoft's Ballmer: If I had it to do all over again...

        I'm a Microsoft supporter (have been an ISV partner since the program started -- original number was 59). That being said, I think your example assumes one can "time the market." You picked a recent low point. Five years ago, MS stock was 31; ten years ago it was 35. It has been stagnant for an awfully long time.
        Paco6945
    • That's just silly ... Gates got the company in a world of trouble ...

      @Allen_Wentz ... by incorporating Internet Explorer into Windows 95.
      M Wagner
    • If you were to have read the original story [....]

      @Allen_Wentz ><br><br>" In this story's full version Steve Balmer was also recognizing the fact that profits at Microsoft have gone up three fold in the past few years; and their Enterprise Division did $17.1 billion in 2011. That would put it in the top five enterprise technology providers as a stand alone company outside of Microsoft."<br><br>" Also, Microsoft peaked at $68.72 per share back before the internet bubble popped and spiked for only a week into the low $90. After that they were always working from the mid $40 down toward their target $26 per share that has been common for the past decade since they became a complex corporation."<br><br>"Face it people Microsoft is so saturated in the marketplace as a holding company of all the other technology giants their position on how they lose money to balance their financials has never been a topic of discussion, they just do."
      Zurk_Orkin
    • Anyone who says Microsoft has been visionless hasn't been paying attention

      Microsoft paid attention to tablets nearly a decade before Apple did. Microsoft anticipated the kind of fully online workflow (in NetMeeting) that Skype would adopt a decade later (and which Microsoft bought.) Applications for quick tablet based capture (i.e. EverNote, etc.) were introduced by Microsoft (OneNote) a decade ago.

      On the business products side, the integration of the whole stack - treating server products as though they were an MS Office style suite - certainly had not been done, or at least well done, prior to Microsoft.

      Now one can certainly look at execution, approach, and wonder if it might have been better. But there are certainly no grounds to say that Microsoft has not had vision.
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter
  • if given the chance to do it all over again...

    ... He'd still screw it up.

    Quoting from the article - Ballmer says if he had it to do all over again, he would dedicate more time to watching over the development process of products rather than just issuing a vision to his employees.

    And yet, according to the article - Ballmer feels that there is no need to fill the role of Software Architect.

    Some people don't see the forest for all the trees.

    -Mike
    Spikey_Mike
  • Watching over the development process. Hmmmmmmm.

    Do you suppose he got that idea from the biography of a rather well-known ex-CEO?
    Userama
  • RE: Microsoft's Ballmer: If I had it to do all over again...

    @Userama

    Better late than never.
    kenosha77a
  • RE: Microsoft's Ballmer: If I had it to do all over again...

    To be blunt, whether you like Ballmer or not (I don't), companies go through cycles in terms of market share and innovation. No company can be "on" all the time. Apple, for instance, went through such a long drought that they nearly went bankrupt.

    That said, innovation at MS isn't dead. Windows 8 (love it or not) has the potential to change the way people look at the desktop/laptop, especially with the touch-screen all-in-ones and tying those into tablets. The Xbox ecosystem is continuing to grow as a multi-media platform and has other companies chasing what it has accomplished there (Samsung copying the Kinect interface).

    Some things have flopped, some have soared. Armchair quarterbacks need to get some perspective.
    Ididar
    • Apple went through problems

      @Ididar ... when they put the wrong guy in as CEO. When they got rid of him, things got better.

      In trying times, I often turn for guidance to the Bible. I opened this morning to the story of Jonah

      See Jonah was on a ship, and God was so mad at him he threw storms at the ship, and the ship was tossed about and in danger of sinking and killing all the passengers and crew.

      So they picked up Jonah and threw his butt overboard. And the storm abated and the ship was saved and sailed away unscathed. The end.

      Understand?
      HollywoodDog
      • man, that's classic

        @HollywoodDog

        nt
        Davewrite