The search for the new Microsoft CEO: Go outside and play

The search for the new Microsoft CEO: Go outside and play

Summary: Sadly, the results of this week's Great Debate (Microsoft's next CEO: Is an insider Redmond's best bet?) didn't fall in my favor. Now I know how Al Gore must have felt when he won the popular vote but didn't get to be President.

TOPICS: Microsoft

This week's Great Debate topic was: Microsoft's next CEO: Is an insider Redmond's best bet? The audience favored the 'No' side of the argument (the one I was on) but alas, I "lost" the debate to Robin Harris whose name is now synonymous with George W. Bush to my Al Gore. I still believe that Microsoft should select an outsider for its new CEO. The reasons are many but one of the most compelling is that Microsoft needs a fresh perspective. And, hey, doesn't everyone tell you to "think outside the box"? They do. But when you do, you're shunned for it. So, I don't believe anyone really likes outside the box thinking. If they did, it would be obvious, like it is to me, that Microsoft needs to hunt outside of its own fences for its new leader.

I happily would take the job, although I know my chances are next to zero for getting it. Microsoft could do much worse, and probably will, than me.

Whomever lands the job of CEO, there's a long list of things he or she will face in the new role.

I've compiled my own list. See how it compares to yours.

  • Licensing complexity and its long overdue simplification.
  • Cloud-option for applications.
  • Operating systems in the cloud.
  • Mobile device security.
  • Dealing with or not dealing with the hardware market.
  • Competing with Apple in the device and desktop markets.
  • Competing with VMware in the virtualization market.
  • The failing PC market.
  • The growing desire for agility in server operating systems.
  • An interoperability strategy.
  • A more open and honest dealing with third-party developers.
  • The fickle consumer market.

Microsoft has some significant issues facing it that I believe could be better handled by someone from outside the company. Someone who's excited about Microsoft, its future, and its products. The CEO needs to be dynamic, charismatic, and have a passion for speaking to people on their level.

Read this

Microsoft's next CEO: Who's on the short list?

Microsoft's next CEO: Who's on the short list?

Microsoft is beginning its search for a successor to CEO Steve Ballmer. Here's who might be on the internal short list of possible candidates.

I think the new age of consumerism and consumerization dictates a different approach to technology products and the people who buy them. You have to find someone who's not only passionate but also someone who loves technology. If you think of Steve Jobs, you could describe him in many ways but you always felt carried away by his passion for technology. I always wondered what sort of things he had sketched or outlined on his own computer or iPad. What dreams did he have for the next technological leap? 

Bill Gates, on the other hand, is calm, intellectual, introverted, and always thinking but not out loud. Gates, an extreme visionary in his own right, was not the dynamic, charismatic swashbuckler that Jobs was. We know it and they both knew it.

Microsoft needs someone who can lead the company and who has mass appeal for consumers. The CEO is the face and voice of a company. There's no substitute for great products but the person in the lead role makes a huge difference for employees, for customers, and for partners or potential partners.

The CEO must understand the needs of businesses but also have the consumer near and dear to his or her heart.

You can't fake passion. You can't fake enthusiasm.

Well, you can, I suppose but such faked emotions are easy to see through. I want to be excited about Microsoft again. I want to look at the new CEO (perhaps in a mirror, if it's me) and say, "Microsoft is going places now and he/she is the reason why".

An outsider who loves Microsoft and its products is a better choice for my vision of the company. Unfortunately, I'm not sure the Board of Directors will agree. I don't think it hurts to consider someone from the inside but I think only an outsider can have the right perspective to take Microsoft on the most prosperous path.

If I were interviewing prospective candidates, I would ask three questions of each one. And I'll give you my answers to the questions as if I were being interviewed for it.

  1. Who do you think should be the next CEO of this company, if we don't select you for the job?
  2. Why should we select you for CEO?
  3. What if you become CEO and you're hated by the employees, by the consumers, and by our partners?

Good questions, huh?

They're tough for me to answer and I'm the one who asked them.

  1. Tony Bates. He has all the right characteristics that I've described in my posts. He's an outsider, he's charismatic, he's dynamic, he's smart, and he's a great choice--that is if you don't pick me. I'm still number one but he's a very strong second choice. And there's no shame in that.
  2. I should be Microsoft's next CEO because I'm everything that Microsoft needs to go forward. I've felt the pains of businesses trying to develop their computing platforms. I've lived with the very tough licensing and traversed it as well as could be expected. I've grown up with Microsoft. I cut my teeth on its earliest offerings. I've lived and breathed this company's products almost from day one. I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of it, I still love it, and I know how to make it better. 
  3. While I'm going to believe that's not going to happen, I'll say that if it did, I'd schedule a multi-city and multi-country tour, like a politician stumping for votes, and personally address the issues face-to-face with our customers. I wouldn't be afraid to walk into their conference rooms and data centers to find out exactly what their pain points are and how I can help. For consumers, I'd offer a human-answered phone service to take questions, complaints, and suggestions. Once we compiled a large number of popular ones, I'd hit the airwaves and answer them. The buck would truly stop with me.

It's a tough decision but fortunately it isn't an irreversible one. If the Board of Directors feels that it has made an incorrect choice, it can dismiss the CEO and try again. There's never a perfect choice. People are imperfect. Companies are imperfect because they're made up of people. I think the best choice is the one who will work for Microsoft and not for him or herself.

What do you think? Insider or outsider? Talk back and let me know.

Related Stories:

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

Why I should be the next Microsoft CEO

The death of Microsoft

Topic: Microsoft


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • Ballmer was fired...

    (OK, replaced by the Board) and Bill saw the writing on the wall so he bought Nokia which would so mess up Microsoft no one would be dumb enough to take over for Ballmer and then they would have to turn to Bill for salvation. Pretty cleaver, in a weaselly nerd kind of way...
    Tony Burzio
    • Not to mention that

      the related article to the right of this article has a picture of Steve Ballmer who's eyes follow you no matter what direction you look at your monitor from.

      He's scaring me!
      • You're right...

        Creepy. Uncle Festor is one ugly, scary dude. Amazing how a man with zero social skills got so far. Luckiest college roommate assignment in history.
        • He had to have some social skills

          To get to where he is.

          That said, he was no Bill Gates, and I think anyone could have delivered the results he did. It is easy to deliver the numbers when your products are selling easily.

          It's at times like this you see who the true leaders are. Now notice how many leaders at MS have been jumping ship. I do think Ballmer wanted to leave before things get ugly. If he were really fired, he would have been told to pack up and leave now...this way they could show they were serious about change.
    • Not quite, note that Ballmer is still on the board

      so it isn't quite like being fired, where they'd want to totally reduce his input.
  • What do you think? Insider or outsider?

    I think it will be an inside outsider or an outside insider. Know what I mean?
  • Ken, in this case the popular vote is all that matters!

    As the moderator is just some person, and not the electoral college. :)
  • Bill Gates needs to go too...

    The last thing the new CEO needs is Bill Gates trying to micromanage from the shadows. They need someone who is creative and thinks outside the box. The new CEO needs to focus on a few key markets, instead of trying to do everything. Currently, their model, has made them, Jack of all trades, and master of none. That's why Ballmer has fumbled time after time. Something tells me, they won't heed my paradigm. They're just to apt at making poor decisions.
    • Maybe they should hire John Sculley

      because we know how well the whole "kicking the founder who helped invent the industry" thing always works out. Rolleyes.
  • If that's your list of challenges ...

    then you may not be qualified to lead Microsoft. Many of the items on your list are already well on their way to being solved. For example, Hyper-V passed VMWare for feature/function and is picking up steam in market share. And Mobile device management, have you not heard of System Center MDM or Intune. And interoperability; wow. Microsoft already builds apps for other platforms and the 'Services' part of devices and services is all about adding value to other platforms.

    The lack of vision as expressed in this blog means your shot at being Microsoft's CEO are zero and none.
  • Gates and Ballmer....

    were the luckiest 2 guys in history. They happened to be swindle IBM into licensing DOS, a terrible OS that Gates didn't even own when they sold them on it, and then low ball bought it. Fast forward 30 years and somehow money has gotten them through, but in that time, a lot of R&D money has been wasted. MS has spent $50 billion in the last 5 years, far more than Apple and Google put together, and most of those R&D projects have proven to be a joke.

    Any new CEO would be interesting as most of the time, if you're being chosen to be CEO of a multinational company worth hundreds of billions, it's probably for a reason (unlike Ballmer and Gates who just got lucky).

    But the main thing I want in the next CEO is someone who can tell when a product needs improvement. How many times have you seen a problem in your Microsoft software and just been like "...are they serious? they even look at their products before they release them?"
  • A tempered pace of change is more important

    Considering how big Microsoft is, there is a lot for an outsider to learn about the organization. This is an established company making billions of dollars, so whoever they select needs to be able to handle the pressure and to not make hasty decisions. I really think someone inside is more likely to be productive right away, someone outside would take a lot of time to be productive.
  • Outsiders work!

    Lou Gerstner was an "outsider" when he took over as a CEO in 1993, in fact the first ever as CEO! He turned around IBM, and many said he brought them back from the brink of failure. I had just retired (early), and watched with amazement, and became a strong supporter. He changed the structure of IBM, and brought in some major new talent to IBM, who had too much "in-breeding". I think Microsoft should do the same thing, for many of the same reasons!
  • RE: CEO requirements

    You forgot the "walk on water" part, Ken.