Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer: Hot Seat?
When Newsweek predicted Microsoft will oust CEO and industry fixture Steve Ballmer in 2010, I tried to ignore the story. Then, ZDnet’s Mary-Jo Foley fired back, saying there’s no way Microsoft’s board will boot Ballmer. Now, I offer my two cents — the case for (and against) Ballmer in 2010.
I’ll keep it simple…
The Case Against Ballmer
Let’s state the obvious: Microsoft’s 10-year stock chart is ugly. Critics note Microsoft shares are down 50 percent since Ballmer became CEO.
Now, the product stuff. It’s an undeniable fact that Microsoft Vista was, at least in the eyes of the average consumer, a massive flop. Few VARs would debate that point.
Moreover, the Zune and Bing, efforts that were supposed to reflect an industry giant’s cannonball entry into the growing portable music and search markets respectively, received a lukewarm reception at best. Ballmer evangelized both efforts. Was anybody listening? Let’s not forget the fast-growing mobile market, where Windows Mobile just can’t compete with BlackBerry, let alone the iPhone.
Former punchline Apple is enjoying the show, painting Microsoft as stodgy and unreliable. As far as the world at large is concerned, Steve Jobs is as cool and serene as Ballmer is old-fashioned. Ironically, Jobs and Ballmer both have reputations for being, um, “demanding” (to put it politely). But somehow, Jobs seemingly walks on water while Ballmer tries to find the next big revenue wave.
The Case For Ballmer
It’s true that a bunch of Microsoft’s consumer offerings have flopped, but that’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Ballmer’s 10-year reign has also seen the launch of Microsoft SharePoint, which has become a major cash cow for the Redmond giant, as partners know well. Meanwhile, Windows 7 has received so much positive press that Vista seems like it could just have been a bad dream (small comfort for those still running it, I know).
The more compelling reason Steve Ballmer might stay, though, is that there’s simply no one knowledgeable enough, connected enough, experienced enough, or prolific enough to fill his shoes. Also of note: Bill Gates is still chairing Microsoft’s board, and any vote to oust Ballmer would have to make it through him first. If that’s not reason enough why he might stay, I don’t know what is.
Still, opinions on Ballmer’s fate and Microsoft’s future differ.
- Matt Asay at CNET asserts that Ballmer just doesn’t have the vision needed to compete in a world indexed by Google
- Nick Eaton at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reminds everyone that Bill Gates was still involved with company strategy until very recently so it’s unfair to lay blame solely at Ballmer’s feet.
Steve Ballmer is, undisputedly, one of the most polarizing figures in the modern computing industry. We’ll be watching him that much more closely to see which predictions come true and which fall flat.
Side note: Newsweek certainly stirred the debate. But the CEO of a $20 million software company has been whispering in our ears for about a year, predicting Ballmer would be ousted. We’re still skeptical. But… ,,,