Microsoft's next CEO: Is an insider Redmond's best bet?

Moderated by Larry Dignan | September 30, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: Steve Ballmer's successor will have to steer Microsoft through some rough seas ahead.

Robin Harris

Robin Harris




Ken Hess

Ken Hess

Best Argument: Yes


Audience Favored: No (55%)

Closing Statements

Next CEO has to know core B2B businesses

Robin Harris

Ken and I agree on much. No long-timers. Elop is bad news. And more.

But our disagreements point to the fundamental decision a new CEO faces: Can Microsoft be a successful B2C and B2B company? I say no.

Look at Microsoft's key products: an OS; business apps; backend infrastructure; cloud services; oh, and a game console. They aren't a consumer company.

Ballmer wants some Apple cool. But their consumer goods aren't much more successful than Intel's. The new CEO needs to focus on the real threat that
Microsoft's B2B business faces: Amazon web services and Google Docs.

Amazon dominates in cloud. Chromebooks are undercutting iPads, let alone PCs. Red Hat is a billion dollar company. PCs are in free fall.

Microsoft is a company in crisis, but too rich to know it. The next CEO has to know its core B2B businesses - and that means an insider.

Needs a multifold vision

Ken Hess

An insider looks good on paper but history proves that, when a company needs a breath of fresh air, an outsider can be the resuscitation required to move the company forward.

Microsoft isn't in trouble but it has some catching up to do. Microsoft is a great company that produces great products but there's been something lackluster about its performance and its vision. Leaders of the company need to know where the company is going in bite-size increments (quarter-by-quarter) and in the longer term (five years, ten years, and more).

The vision that Microsoft needs is multifold:

  • A clear cut cloud perspective - desktops, servers, applications, and games in the cloud by subscription.
  • An enhanced mobile operating system - forget hardware, supply your best software to the mobile market.
  • Licensing restructuring - Move to a subscription model, simplify, simplify, simplify and tone down the "we're out to get you" messages.
  • Interoperability - Be open and cooperative with third-party developers giving them what they need to enhance and extend your products.
  • Hardware dump - Don't do hardware. Let other companies focus on hardware. You focus on providing the best software and support to third-parties.

There's no shame in admitting that you went down the wrong path by messing with hardware. You're a software company. Do that and do it better than anyone else. Be Microsoft but hire an outsider for your next CEO.


Insider outsider

Larry Dignan

As much as I agree with Ken that an outsider would be the best prescription for Microsoft, the better argument was made by Robin. Perhaps Microsoft threads the needle with an "outsider," who used to be an exec in Redmond and knows the company well. Robin's B2B and enterprise argument sealed the deal for me. Robin gets the win. 


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  • Although I have voted "No", I don't really know the answer to this

    Large companies are tough to manage, and an insider's knowledge is valuable. But Microsoft has developed an unwelcome stubborn streak in the last year or two that has not served them well.

    Their determination to underserve desktop computing customers with a relatively poor mouse and keyboard experience; their stubbornness with respect to the XBox One's features and behaviour (only pulled back from once the damage was done.)

    They need fresh eyes that are more committed to the customer, and less stubborn about carrying out big visionary things that may not be all that visionary anyway (let's face it, if customers don't accept the way you want it to be, you can't call it a vision when the viewpoint does not catch on.)

    Can a less stubborn leader be found inside the company? I hope so.

    Microsoft has a lot of assets and a pretty strong leadership team. But they'd find an infusion of outside talent a big life-giving boost, I think. But boy, they would need to be a quick study.
    Reply 19 Votes I'm for No
    • There are reasons Microsoft needs a clean slate (so to speak)

      Microsoft behaved badly under both Gates and Ballmer.

      This was part of the reason why Microsoft lost the trust of many consumers. Microsoft needs to be seen to be a changed company.

      Microsoft needs a new business model (selling software licences is yesteryear). It needs to embrace open-source, which in itself needs a new culture. Microsoft's mobile competitors all used open-source software in their browsers and OS kernels to become quicker to market.
      Reply 12 Votes I'm Undecided
      • Wrong

        Microsoft has adopted the right courses, it mained its P.C. dominance and it was on Mobile long before the rest, the internal fiefdoms were against the development of Windows Mobile, Zune and KIN which made them slower to adapt to the swiftly changing enviroments, Microsoft did it better than any other company, Windows Vista was way ahead of its time, in reality Windows 7 IS Windows Vista, only under a different name (yep, it's the Mojave experiment all over again), the differences between 8 and 8.1 (Blue) are bigger.

        Microsoft's main problems, their lack of unity was solved under Ballmer, in order to be more successful Microsoft needs a C.E.O. who'll be loyal in keeping their products, not selling-/spinning-off Bing, Xbox, M.S.N. and other divisions for short-term profits, Microsoft needs someone who believes in the seamless interconnectivity of EVERYTHING in and under the Cloud.

        A Redmond (wo)man is best fit for this job, not an outsider.
        Taizong Yuan
        Reply 10 Votes I'm Undecided
  • Only with the right insider

    Microsoft has grown to the point that there are insiders who really have not seen any other culture than Redmond's. In my opinion Sinofsky was one of these and was part of the problem. I have to vote yes, because the problems are deep and need someone who understands the situation. I want to vote no since many of those near the top are the cause of much of the problems. That is why I want the right insider, since it is way to likely that some of the boot lickers near the top will become the next golden boy (like Sinofsky) for an outsider.
    Reply 7 Votes I'm for Yes
    • Yep

      As long as it's not Elop, 'cause,
      ELOP = FLOP.
      Taizong Yuan
      Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
  • I like Microsoft's Vision

    and I would hate for that vision to change with somebody who is only looking out for the bottom line. Someone from the outside might not get it. Microsoft has had a few failed products but they are an extremely profitable company and if they stay the course they will stay profitable. I have a Windows Phone 8 and a convertible touch screen laptop and 3 desktops and one android tablet (Nexus 7) The only reason I don't have a Surface RT is the Nexus. It is that good. Windows 8 is a great product misunderstood :-(
    Reply 11 Votes I'm for No
    • ...

      I completely agree with you, I've been trying to explain this to others for a long time.
      Taizong Yuan
      Reply 5 Votes I'm Undecided
  • Not is it the question...

    Be of inside or not, not is it the question, should the new MSFT CEO syntonize with the company and to its employees, should somebody to be that he knows the world of the soft. and of the hard. and be ahead to the technological changes that are to come. Will Be Pat Gensilger of VMware?
    luis river
    Reply 12 Votes I'm Undecided
  • MSFT should hire an ex-insider outsider

    Elop fits in that mold, but I'd be open to hear about other strong candidates.
    Reply 19 Votes I'm Undecided
  • It'll be some cost-cutting "turnaround expert"

    Look, Harris, anybody currently at Microsoft is part of the problem. And Hess, without Steve Jobs zombie powder, where are they going to find somebody with enough vision and charisma to turn the company around? You think somebody like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos would touch Microsoft with a 10 foot radiation hazard suit?
    Reply 13 Votes I'm Undecided