Next CEO’s Biggest Job: Fixing Microsoft’s Culture

26. August 2013

Date: 26-08-2013
Source: The Wall Street Journal

At Software Giant, Taking the Safe, Profitable Route Often Wins Out Over Innovation

Months before Apple Inc. unveiled its iPad in January 2010, the tech world was buzzing about mockups of a tablet computer from Microsoft Corp. Created by an inventor of the company’s Xbox videogame machine, the Courier folded like a book and let users sketch and jot ideas on a touchscreen.

That spring, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer told employees at Courier’s Seattle laboratory that he was pulling the plug on the device.

Mr. Ballmer said he was redirecting resources to the next version of the company’s Windows operating system, which was more than two years away, according to Georg Petschnigg and other former employees of the lab.

Microsoft MisfiresWhoever succeeds Mr. Ballmer at Microsoft will face the challenge of rebooting its corporate culture, in which charting the safe but profitable course—at least for the short term—too often wins out over innovation, say current and former Microsoft employees and other industry executives.

Under Bill Gates and then Mr. Ballmer, who announced his retirement last week, Microsoft honed franchises like Office and Windows to become a financial powerhouse.

The ingredients for success also made Microsoft a graveyard for the kind of big ideas that have inspired companies like Apple, Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. to create new areas of computing.

“If that is the game you’re going to try to play, you’re going to lose,” Mr. Petschnigg said.

So ingrained is Microsoft’s culture of protecting entrenched interests that swinging for the fences is sometimes punished, and so people stopped trying, say current and former employees and outsiders. They say that an outsider CEO may be the best choice to welcome back technologists who think outside the box.

“It is most likely, if not essential,” says management psychologist Thomas Saporito. Read the rest of this entry »


Microsoft’s Lost Decade

20. August 2012

Date: 20-08-2012
Source: Vanity Fair: Kurt Eichenwald

Once upon a time, Microsoft dominated the tech industry; indeed, it was the wealthiest corporation in the world. But since 2000, as Apple, Google, and Facebook whizzed by, it has fallen flat in every arena it entered: e-books, music, search, social networking, etc., etc. Talking to former and current Microsoft executives, Kurt Eichenwald finds the fingers pointing at C.E.O. Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates’s successor, as the man who led them astray. 

To the saccharine rhythm of a Muzak clip, Steve Ballmer crouched into a tackling stance and dashed across a ballroom stage at the Venetian Las Vegas. A 20-foot wall of video screens flashed his name as the 55-year-old Microsoft chief executive bear-hugged Ryan Seacrest, the ubiquitous television and radio host, who had just introduced Ballmer’s keynote speech for the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show.

More than 150,000 techies and executives were swarming the city’s hotels last January in the annual bacchanalia of cutting-edge gizmos and gadgets. Attendees ran from one vendor to the next, snapping up fistfuls of freebies, inhaling flavored oxygen, and rubbing elbows with stars such as LL Cool J and Justin Bieber. Read the rest of this entry »


How Microsoft learned to love the outsiders

2. May 2012

Date: 02-05-2012
Source: Fortune

A motley crew of struggling Internet companies have found an unlikely inspirational coach: Steve Ballmer.

FORTUNE — The Bad News Bears. Hoosiers. Remember the Titans. Moneyball. Friday Night Lights… It’s happened so many times in the movies — movies that often pledged they were based on a true story: A flawed but decent coach takes a bunch of ragtag misfits, turns them into champions and rekindles the passion in his heart.

So it’s got to happen in real life sometimes, right? Even in a part of the real world as surreal as the Internet industry. There has to be some great coach who can take a motley crew of misfits and turn them into a team of unlikely heroes with a Hollywood incantation like “Clear eyes, full hearts!”

Motley crew of the Internet, meet your inspirational coach: Steve Ballmer.
No, not the Ballmer who, in low-slung and lumpy slacks, played the sweaty ape as mad villain to Steve Jobs’ clinical yet charismatic hero. This is not the Ballmer who grunted, “Give it up to me!” This is the new Ballmer, the man who speaks — discreetly but forcefully — through his wallet. The man has $60 billion worth of kindling in his executive heart, just waiting for the right spark to set it afire. Read the rest of this entry »