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

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.

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.

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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".

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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.

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