"That was my best idea," Ballmer says
When your best idea is to buy a failing company, it's time to find someone who has ideas.
Once I got to that point in the article, my best idea was to quit reading.
The relationship between former Microsoft CEOs Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates has so soured over the years that the pair are no longer speaking to each other, according to a new profile. The article, which appears in the November 2014 issue of Vanity Fair, cites numerous Redmond insiders who claim that tensions between the …
Did he take responsibility for Longhorn?
Seemed somewhat pointed that during this time, Bill Gates was responsible to software architecture...
Weird thing was that even Elop could had been successful during this time; Microsoft had few competitors, so all they really needed to do was crank out minor upgrades of Windows and Office to keep the gravy train running. They really didn't need to roll out any major architectural upgrades to Windows.
Other significant quotes:
" "He didn't know how to let me be CEO, and I didn't know how to do it," Ballmer said "
" "The worst work I did was from 2001 to 2004," he told the magazine."
The former marketing drone knew he wasn't cut out for the top position in what was then an engineering company almost immediately and soldiered on anyway. Kinda turns him into a more tragic character who really struggled. A guy that wouldn't leave his post because he was eiither too proud, not smart enough or both, and then made a LOT of bad decisions because he lacked the technical chops of his predessor and his successor. This partly explains the angry outbursts, chair throwing and losing a good chunk of the best/brightest software engineers they had as he had no idea how to lead a monstrosity of that size and still let his employees properly innovate.
Marketing weenies have no business being at the CEO/Chairman positions in a TECH company. Yeah, I'm looking at you John Chambers...
To buy a company in trouble can be a successful strategy for some investors.
If it wasn't for the fact that Nokia was a technology giant, it might be a classic choice of Warren Buffett.
The Nokia phone business did have several steady revenue streams, several development teams working on some interesting projects, several good products just launched or close to a launch (which could get refactored in following generations, but didn't). As far as I can tell from outside, they might as well keep on going with a profit, if they had a chance to selectively shed some fat in terms of staff and internal projects, get more focused and "stop switching goals halfway there".
Microsoft's only plan with Nokia is to have an own vehicle for Windows Phone, which means that much of Nokia's bread-and-butter technology legacy has been wasted, and many legacy Nokia fans left in a vacuum.
"Microsoft's only plan with Nokia is to have an own vehicle for Windows Phone."
There's no doubt they had to buy Nokia in order to stay in the mobile market (no other company wants WP). But should they have even bothered? When they can leech off Android and get more money that way (like they are now)?
Instead, they've dragged their (once good) desktop down with it. And now they're "pot committed" - they can't back out because they have too much invested in the mobile.
There's no doubt they had to buy Nokia in order to stay in the mobile market (no other company wants WP). But should they have even bothered?
I guess it depends when his idea was to buy Nokia. Personally I'd have thought buying HTC might have been a better move if they just wanted to push Windows Phone. But like you, I suspect they only bought Nokia because otherwise there'd have been no-one making Win Pho.
On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with MS blowing $10 billion on a mobile strategy. They've got the money, and so much of the medium-term future of computing is in tablets and phones that it's important that they're in this area to stay relevant. They bet a lot of money on XBox, and lost a lot originally, but are now turning nice profits. Admittedly they've not done as much with it as they should. No-one seems to have been able to make the huge convergence and cash that was expected from controlling the TV. I suspect it's because TV content providers wanted as much control as they could manage to keep, and so pushed their own set-top boxes*.
Google blew billions on Android before they knew it would be a success. And that investment is paying off handsomely in terms of juicy user-data, local search, mapping, push to Google's services etc. And so would have been worth a try, even if it had failed. And of course Google have tried and failed at many things, as they've spectacularly succeeded at others.
Maybe tablets and mobiles will become a no-profit commodity soon, and all the cash (and data-harvesting opportunities) will be in cloud services for a while. So if you've got the cash, it's got to be worth spreading some money around in related areas, to catch the next big thing. The trick is not to piss off your existing big market, that funds all this experimentation. So say Google mustn't fuck up search, or scare their customers away with blatant privacy abuse. And MS mustn't upset their core desktop customers by buggering up their UI to suit a half-baked Windows everywhere strategy. Oh, hang on a minute... Doh!
*Why were they ever called set-top boxes? I don't recall seeing many CRT tellies that had a flat enough top that you'd balance the video on them. And now everyone's telly is less than 1" thick, you'd need a special self-balancing box... Why weren't they called something else? And can we now rename them?
"No-one seems to have been able to make the huge convergence and cash that was expected from controlling the TV."
There's no convergence to be had. There's a generation growing up who think that TV just carries X-Factor, Bake Off and the Footy. All the interesting content is being produced by small players and distributed on the interwebs. There are typically half a dozen or more screens in a house and controlling the TV means nothing if everyone is watching the other five.
tldr; TV is *so* twentieth century.
"Why were they ever called set-top boxes? I don't recall seeing many CRT tellies that had a flat enough top that you'd balance the video on them..."
Apparently, you're not old enough. In the early cable era, when settop boxes made their first appearance, there were tellies that you could (and most did) use as a table!
They're called that because that is, in fact, where they originally sat in virtually every household.
Our tellies in the 70s had rounded tops. I think we had one totally square one in the early 80s. My Mum put a vase of flowers on it.
But then I didn't see a set-anything-box until the mid-80s, when people started getting video recorders. There was very little cable TV in the UK before the 90s, and satellite was the late 80s.
I suppose a lot of the 60s TVs had a flat top, as they came in in cabinets with doors.
"To buy a company in trouble can be a successful strategy for some investors." No. Not that company even before any revisionist historical narrative. Nokia was a disaster looking for a place to happen but rather than letting it crumble and fade away, Ballmer bought into the notion that several years of mismanagement could be overcome by waving the Microsoft magic wand over it and all would be well.
Once you get to the part about him not realising the potential of mobile in the early 2000s because he was too busy faffing with Longhorn, it makes more sense.
Too little too late but if they'd seriously kicked off Windows Mobile say 10 years ago*, they might have established market dominance much like Windows on PCs. If they'd done that and then brought some of the hardware in-house some years later (i.e. through a Nokia aquisiton) that would have been a complete (and probably murderously successful) strategy. It's the early part that was lacking, not really the later part about Nokia.
Very unusual to see someone in that position to say "You know what, I missed that, I should have seen it and it's my fault for missing it." If nothing else that's unusual enough with people in that position to be worth a little respect. Only a smidge, mind.
* Yes I know Windows Mobile has been around in various guises for ages.
For the life of me I can't ever remember reading about even one single successful contribution/idea/decision that Steve Ballmer made while CEO at Microsoft. I did read that M$ revenue increased during his tenure "in the corner office" but was that because of Ballmer or in spite of him? [scratching my head] Instead Ballmer always appeared to be just a big stupid cartoonish buffoon who road to 'fame' on Bill Gates' coattales. I can certainly understand why Bill Gates is fed up with the chair-throwing goofball. OTOH Ballmer is laughing all the way to the bank. Go figure.
Wrote :- "Most successful people only have one good idea, and it usually only succeeds by accident. I don't think you can criticize people for that."
I don't think he was criticising him for having one good idea, but for having no more than that.
I am racking my brains to think what that one good idea was. Was it donkey.bas?
"For the life of me I can't ever remember reading about even one single successful contribution/idea/decision that Steve Ballmer made while CEO at Microsoft."
I think you're being harsh. Gates was always the senior partner in the relationship, and when Ballmer was (nominally) made CEO, he had Gates breathing down his neck in three suffocating capacities:
1) As shadow CEO, still interfering directly, still speaking day to day to senior MS managers, so doing Ballmer's job at the same time as Ballmer, and undermining Ballmer's authority and control
2) As "software architect", which gave him unparalleled control of Microsoft's destiny, thus critically influencing what Ballmer's choices and strategy might be
3) As chairman of the board, and a major shareholder, so Ballmer's direct boss - marking Ballmer's work whilst at the same time undermining him, interfering, and reigning in his options
It is possible that Ballmer was the incompetent buffoon as his critics say. But we'll never know, because the man was never given a fair crack of the whip as CEO. CEO's should never, ever stay on after their time, and they should never, ever become chairman of the company's board. Bill Gates was responsible for Vista, and as software architect responsible for W8, and the whole Windows Phone mess. Gates' continued involvement in Microsoft after his time as CEO is probably why MS is in the pickle it is now, and ought to be taught at all business schools for decades to come.
That is a very interesting point. It would be fascinating to know whether it was in fact Gates that was the reason why Ballmer could not reign in Sinofski until it was too late for Win 8 and in the end had to fall on his sword as part of the price for ensuring that the former head of the Windows division was made to walk the plank shortly after the launch of W8. It is very difficult to believe that Sinofski could have gotten away with quite the degree of "fuck you" attitude towards the internal critics at Redmond (and they did exist, not everyone was exactly happy with his iPad obsessions - ie Surface 2 on ARM running Windows RT) without some very powerful backing from very high up in the company's hierarchy. Given that Ballmer and Gates had, apparently, been at loggerheads for years it is unlikely that it was both of them. So the question is, who was Sinofski's "sponser" - Gates or Ballmer?
Very good post by the way Ledswinger - well argued and logical.
TL;DR version: Steve can't complain because he knew the deal.
1) As shadow CEO, still interfering directly...
2) As "software architect", which gave him unparalleled control...
3) As chairman of the board, and a major shareholder...
I think you are right about the fair crack bit, but when you take a job on (esp. a big job) you need to do your due diligence and find out who you're working for (in this case Board, shareholders, chair etc.) and understand what they are like.
Steve knew exactly who and what he was taking on. If he wasn't prepared to work under those conditions, maybe he shouldn't have taken the role. Or he didn't do his homework.
I would seriously hesitate to take on a role where the incumbent had been promoted to control that role, or carried on with some involvement with the role, because it's understandably hard for the incumbent not to fiddle with the old role. And that always makes you second guess your own performance.
For the life of me I can't ever remember reading about even one single successful contribution/idea/decision that Steve Ballmer made
I think you're being unfair. Not that I think he was a good CEO, but he did do some stuff right. Or at least was in charge when it happened. So he gets the credit for not stopping it, like he gets the blame for the stuff that went wrong. He didn't have any charimsa or seemingly any feel for marketing, which I think is much more MS's problem. I think they need a marketeer in charge, rather than a technical person. Because they've got lots of good stuff, but lots of left-over bad reputation to get rid of.
Also he did nothing for Microsoft's dysfunctional internal culture. Which by everything that I've read is hostile to anyone who's not an insider - which means robotic, sharp-elbowed, office-politics-assassin. I've also known 2 people who worked in Reading, one left with stress and the other did not paint a flattering portait of the cocaine and office politics (although he was in sales).
I think his two huge mistakes were letting Sinofsky run riot in Windows land and annoying everyone, and ignoring smartphones. In the days before iPhone, Windows Mobile 5 was not bad (for the time and available hardware). If they'd actually done some development on it, they could have taken more market share off Symbian - and might have been able to compete with Apple. Instead of getting stomped on by them, and then crushed into the ground by Google. Particularly as RIM were already kicking their arses before Apple did. As I recall they made almost no improvements in their mobile software after about 2004, and the iPhone was 2007? And it took 2 years after that for the rubbish WinMob 6.
On the other hand, he recovered quite well from the mess that was Longhorn. Vista wasn't as awful as it was painted, once the initial driver issues were sorted out. And there was some pain to be expected given how much of the codebase they had to change. Almost everyone agrees that Windows 7 is good. Best I not mention 8... MS aren't doing badly in Cloud as well. But surely their best improvement has been in servers and tools. All that active directory and group policy stuff, which keeps them safe in their corporate market. Even if PCs are living longer, so they're not getting refreshes every 2-3 years, but more like every 5-6. Surely Exchange + Outlook + Exchange Active Sync are in pretty good shape nowadays. I'm certainly not aware that there's anything else around to beat it. Even if I personally hate Exchange. I'd be lynched if I suggested moving us off it.
We have an example of a large company succeeding despite the CEO's best efforts. While I don't begrudge the wealth, I do have to wonder if there will ever come a time that shareholders realize it is not in their best interest to allow the C-suite folks the ability to set compensation packages based on what the CEO across the street got.
Very few CEOs provide value that is even a fraction of the wage + benefit + retirement package they get. And the few who do are usually founders or key contributors who have been in from the ground floor and likely are still significant shareholders, meaning they are both invested in the continued success of the company and are compensated handsomely by said success (or pantsed by its utter failure).
Too much water under the bridge with this Board ?!?!?!?
Steve, you're lucky the Board was as incompetent as it was or the water would have been a lot higher, and sooner.
Microsoft would be in better shape if you had been swept away in, say, 2002.
And immeasurably better had it not appealed the breakup order. But hindsight is 20/20.
>As for the man currently occupying the corner office in Redmond,
>Satya Nadella – who kicked off his tenure as CEO by announcing
>18,000 layoffs – Ballmer told Vanity Fair, "I am giving him space."
How considerate. Given the task facing Nadella, a reasonable person would instead have given him a shovel. A big one.
Absolutely right.. A salesman will also try and sell what you don't make; and then balme everyone else for not "giving him the product the market wants."
OTOH We have the Steve Jobs technique where he sold people a dream to be fulfilled by his products.
(see inumerabale Weight loss\ get rich quick\ Fitness fads)
"where he advises Nadella on technology matters"
Is it me or does that sound menacing?
Anyway, this whole thing smells to me of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; I still think that Ballmer is essentially a nice guy (as far as a sales executive can be nice) if more than slightly clumsy and that Gates is a slimy, manipulative weasel. Yup, I'm still thinking Blair and Brown.
In many large companies it's normal to spend time selling at the coalface before being considered for advancing on the exec ladder. Usually it's essential if a company is not to produce only what the engineers deem fit and the bean counters will countenance..
That works in normal competitive markets, but one has to wonder when Microsoft is/was such a blatant monopoly. Typical of monopoly thinking was the purchase and gutting of Nokia in order to force a previously unwanted phone technology onto the market.
As for wrecking the Windows cash-cow in order to barge into the tablet market, predictably a disaster.
The thing is that Windows 7 and Office (even with the stupid ribbon) and the Windows Phone are basically good products that Microsoft seems to have been determined to f**k up.
And the f**k up seems to be because someone in there is determined to push their view onto an unwelcoming public.
I actually like my Windows phone more than any other I've had. But it still has annoyances that irritate me and some of which would probably put many users off completely. So,for example, the low end 635 that I have is meant to be a mass market device. But the average punter wants a device with a self facing camera and flash. Which it hasn't got - no doubt to keep costs down. And, should they look for something just a bit more expensive and capable, but not near the top-end, they won't find it. Because, it appears, MS are looking to push sales up to the top end and stuff the middle.
But touch any other MS product and you'll see the same muddy paw prints. Did anyone ask for the ribbon? Or for "Metro" as it was then called, rather patronisingly IMHO.
Ballmer claims to have planned to quit in 2017, but he ended up handing in his letter four years earlier – and reportedly not even Microsoft's board, of which Gates was then chair, was expecting it.
Ballmer threw his toys out of the pram and stormed off in a huff? Who'd a thunk it?
It was Ballmer's brilliant idea to buy Nokia, it was Ballmer's idea to ignore cell phones and focus on Vista, then, when it was too late, screw over the PC users with Windows 8 and the surface slabs.
Nadella may be so fluent in Corporate that he is unable to speak Human, but even so it doesn't seem as if all his ideas are bad.
If he's not involved in Microsoft anymore, why the heck did tell the Clippers they'd have to convert to Surface? Maybe it was just a reflex action when he saw a player holding something with an Apple logo on it. More likely it was just him thinking "because I'm a billionaire, I'm smarter than everyone else about everything".
Such low level micromanagement to control what tablet the players choose to use would worry the hell out of me if I was the head coach. I imagine him being the kind of owner to tell the coach which players should be starting, who they should draft, and so on.
If he's not involved in Microsoft anymore, why the heck did tell the Clippers they'd have to convert to Surface?
Because he's a Linus Torvalds-grade nutjob. Apparently sports commentators on telly keep calling the Surface tablets "iPads", which is pissing off Ballmer immensely.
BTW he famously banned his kids from using Apple products too. Cray cray...
I could understand wanting his family to be seen using Microsoft products when he's their CEO. But he doesn't work for Microsoft anymore, and while he's a huge shareholder ($15 billion or so) it isn't like forcing the Clippers to use or not use Surface will move the needle on Microsoft's stock price, or that he has any reason to care if he's got $15 billion or $15.1 billion of MSFT stock unless he's hoping to buy a team for cash in every sports league from Pee Wee football to UEFA.
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