Microsoft execs as CEO: Jury out on future success

Can Don Mattrick turn Zynga around? Maybe, but the history of former Microsoft execs becoming great CEOs is mixed.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Microsoft isn't exactly a CEO factory in the same rank as General Electric, but perhaps Don Mattrick can definitively change that perception with his new gig at Zynga.

On Monday, Zynga, the beleaguered social gaming company, named Don Mattrick as CEO. Mattrick had been president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business, which is the unit behind the Xbox franchise.

Can Mattrick turn Zynga around? It's unclear. Zynga, largely built on Facebook's platform, has to reinvent for mobile and generate some hits. Unfortunately, history isn't much of a guide when gauging former Microsoft-ies and CEO success.

When it comes to CEO success, Microsoft doesn't have the pedigree of General Electric where former execs such as David Cote at Honeywell and Jim McNerney at Boeing are doing very well leading their respective companies. Former GE exec Bob Nardelli struggled as CEO of Home Depot, recovered as chief of Chrysler only to step aside to work as an advisor to Cerberus Capital Management, which invested in the automaker. Nardelli then left to run his own investment vehicle.

The biggest wrinkle with GE's management chain is the company has a dedicated system that is expected to yield strong execs. The Microsoft management tree has a few CEO home runs with caveats. Overall, the jury is still out on Microsoft-ies as CEO and there doesn't appear to be some management system carved in stone. Here's a quick recap.



Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media. Maffei oversees a vast portfolio of media, technology and telecom assets. Maffei had been CFO of Microsoft, but also honed his chops elsewhere on the management front. Maffei had been CFO of Oracle and CEO of 360networks. Liberty has three units---Liberty Capital, Liberty Starz and Liberty Interactive. Liberty has done well carving its holdings up into publicly traded units that happen to be near 52-week highs.


Paul Maritz, former CEO of VMware, CEO of EMC's Pivotal big data company. Maritz left Microsoft, started a company called Pi, which was acquired by EMC in 2008. Maritz ultimately led VMware, the virtualization giant majority owned by EMC. After growing VMware into a juggernaut, Maritz went back under the EMC umbrella. Now he's CEO of Pivotal, an EMC big data company that the storage giant hopes will replicate VMware's success.

Nathan Myhrvold, CEO of Intellectual Ventures. Myhrvold, the retired CTO of Microsoft, managed to take patents and turn it into an investment vehicle. While some folks think Intellectual Ventures is a patent problem, you have to hand it to Myhrvold for thinking ahead with a business model.

Kevin Johnson, CEO of Juniper Networks. Johnson had been at Microsoft for 16 years and had been president of that platforms and services unit. At Juniper, Johnson managed to put market leader Cisco on its heels for a bit. Cisco, however, restructured, became more efficient and is executing well. Johnson's task will to be keep Juniper as a strong No. 2 networking provider and stay in the conversation globally as Cisco goes after Huawei. Johnson could fall into the tweener category following a series of so-so quarters amid a rocky global economy. 




Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia. Elop left Microsoft, bet Nokia on the Windows Phone platform and has had mixed results at best. Nokia's journey is far from over, but the company has been rumored to be on the shopping block. Elop needs to generate more sales of Nokia's high-end Lumia line and also fend off Android on the low-end smartphone market. Elop still has some time to turn Nokia around to be a mobile player, but the clock is ticking.



Paul Allen, Chairman of Vulcan Inc. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, became a big tech investor and has had some spectacular misses with companies such as Charter Communications, some mixed bags such as the Oxygen Network and Tech TV, and a few hits such as DreamWorks Animation SKG. Overall, Allen probably could have kept his Microsoft shares, collected today's dividends and did much better. On the bright side, Allen can always check out a game since Vulcan owns the Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Sounders FC. Bottom line: Allen is a tweener, but you could argue that his post Microsoft career history is shaky.

Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Raikes used to lead Microsoft's Business Division, which is a cash cow. Now he is CEO of another cash cow that's charitable. Raikes leads the foundation's investments and bets to "promote equity for all people around the world." Raikes already new his boss, Bill Gates, very well and it's hard to judge him on the capitalism scale.

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