The Gates half open at Microsoft!

Posted on February 7, 2014


I wonder why no self-respecting global heavyweight prospect would take on the CEO role at Microsoft?

Apart from the looming presence of Bulmer and Gates on the board, taking on Microsoft has the appeal of a cutom Saville Row suit, but on closer inspection you notice the straight jacket. On the one hand it has the mother of all portfolio’s for any entrepreneurial leader to go into some serious world domination mode that could see Microsoft put clear air between itself and the industry at large and a CEO create a name for themselves. On the other hand it is in an unenviable state sitting on the cusp of one of the largest workforce integration challenges, legacy of the Nokia acquisition, AND a seismic cultural right turn with the services and devices change of discipline which goes far beyond just a rebranding exercise. Not to mention the conflict this poses with the huge Microsoft Partner ecosystem. Like the barrels of a shot gun holding any CEO to a committed course of action for the foreseeable future.

Truth be told the Services and Devices move is far more than re-branding. Even for a salesman like Bulmer he could not have failed in an awareness of the size of the challenge this posed for a product centric entity like Microsoft. This is going to rumble on for years as the Microsoft machine re-engineers itself and culturally flips more than a few necessary bits as it negotiates a fast moving feral market and renegotiates its engagement with a somewhat maligned Partner ecosystem.

I don’t intend to digest or question the propriety of these two decisions (not in this missive anyway!), but to set these in motion and then walk is not I suspect what Bulmer wanted. I suspect it has something to do with the shareholders who have forced his hand, if so shame on them for their appalling timing and complete lack of foresight. What they have done is to render Microsoft the most half-cocked economic goliath of our age.

These two Bulmer market plays (Nokia + Services & Devices) are unfinished business in anyone’s eye’s, and for the big hitters who were lined up for the CEO beauty parade, none of them proved to have enough character to take on the challenge. For whilst I have acknowledged already excuse a plenty for them to decline honourably, I believe this does represent a market changing opportunity for someone with the right stuff. The fact that none of those headhunted for the role had the right stuff does not mean that the person does not exist.

As I have blogged earlier (‘If Microsoft Made Cars…‘) I believe there is one unique profile of individual who could performed magic with Microsoft. We know Elephants can Dance ‘Who says Elephants can’t Dance’ (aka IBM’s Louise V.Gerstner Jnr.) and Microsoft could have been the Ginger Roger/Fred Astaire, street dancing hipster all swept up in one, style and street credibility in one package. Dreams are made of less. Alas, in another parallel universe maybe…… as for our reality…..roll in Satay Nadella.

Oh yes AND Gates….. invited apparently by Nadella to fulfil a rather vague role quote “I make sure we pick ambitious scenarios and that we have a strong architecture to deliver on them. I encourage good work.”

I think it could be fair to say that = ‘Access to all areas’. Which in some respects is inspirational because innovation is what Microsoft needs so dearly, a dimension that went into decline when Mr Gates left and one we can only hope he will re-inject. Nadella has all the hallmarks of a ‘night watchman’ to excuse the cricket parlance, a man to hold the fort, a safe pair of hands. In Microsoft’s case to perhaps see it through the Nokia + Service & Devices transitions. I fear if that is all we have then Microsoft is going to lose ground fast, Microsoft is in the doldrums’, lacking blue ocean scale innovation for too long chasing other market movers trends instead of driving them.

The return of Gates echo’s in the footsteps of another IT innovator of our age, arch rival Apple and none other than that God like persona in the eyes of the Apple fanbois, none other than of Steve Jobs.

If you are still with me on this rant then you probably know what is coming next…

Bill Gates is one of the few with the right stuff to do the magic at this unique moment in time with Microsoft. Whether he is the ONLY person we may never find out unless that individual steps up to the plate.

For now we have Bill Gates with one foot in the door, riding shotgun with his ‘Access to all Areas’ remit. Gates has the God like status and credibility and knows where the leavers are to get the whole team Microsoft + Partners to spin on a dime and dance the wild fandango like a hungry start-up blasting through the mere mortal CEO challenges of ‘Nokia + Service & Devices’ into clear blue water. It would have been inspired of him to step into the breach and taken the helm defacto, but perhaps this is his modest way.

As for Staya Nadella. A fine CV, Microsoft through and through, Gates he is not. Microsoft may be able to use a night watchman in the absence of what is required to meet its real needs. I hope Nadella will prove me wrong for the whole ecosystem and I wish him good luck, I fear it will take more than luck.

As for the Microsoft Partners, the Partner ecosystem the envy of the industry, there is no clear messaging as to the future. As Mcirosoft fumbles trying to play the services ball that traditionally was competently collected with one handed grace and ease exclusively by their Partners uncertainty is not going away.