Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, is officially out — sometime in the next 12 months. Another victim of Steve Jobs and the iPhone.
Blame that crazy, rebellious vision of Jobs which somehow changed the world, rendering Microsoft and the once impervious Windows as nothing more than fat, dumb, slow-moving dinosaurs.
Note the radical shift in value for Apple ($AAPL) from the very day the iPhone was first released (29 June 2007). Note Microsoft, standing still. Microsoft stayed big as the new world favored the small, the fast — the mobile.
Ballmer, for all the good he did for Microsoft — and anyone who says differently is either too young to be taken seriously, or too foolish to be tolerated — made the singular critical strategic mistake that has befallen so many of his ilk: a belief that the past is prologue.
Whereas Steve Jobs sought to destroy everything in his past, to remake the world, Ballmer sought to bring more and more of the past into the future. Ballmer’s way was right, for nearly a generation. Then it was completely wrong.
From the early days, when Microsoft became the Bill Gates – Steve Ballmer show, the men and the company were stunningly rewarded for pivoting from a software application company to a computer gateway troll. With Ballmer as the giddy lead tackle, Microsoft singularly changed computing: a computer was placed on every desktop and every computer required Windows to function.
There was no alternative. None. Every competing company was killed off. Excepting, Apple, which lay on the ground, bloodied, beaten and nearly dead.
As Steve Jobs remade himself, so too he soon remade Apple. Jobs understood immediately: to survive against Microsoft, there was only one way: to alter the very definition of “computer”.
As Ballmer clung to the strategy that had so richly rewarded Microsoft, building gateway upon gateway, attempting to create a “standard” for PCs, for gaming, for businesses large and small, for the Internet itself, Apple — under Jobs — took an alternate path: highly personal, highly mobile computers, with no keyboard, no mouse, and a relatively non-existent operating system.
A generation from now, perhaps Tim Cook will be forced to leave Apple, having missed some massive tectonic shift, just as Ballmer did.
Handicapping the Next Microsoft CEO
Steve Ballmer made many people very rich, few more so than himself. His future is secure. Microsoft’s much less so. A decision looms large for the company’s board: who will be the next CEO?
I caused quite a stir back in 2011 when I predicted the death of both Windows and Office by 2016. Time will prove me right. Nevertheless, right or wrong in my prediction, I believe that the next CEO of Microsoft must radically re-make the company. This will not be an easy task. As we learned once more with Ballmer, it is extremely hard for any CEO at any company to not focus on those areas that are raining down cash.
The new CEO must, however. Windows and Office have a limited future, no matter the profits they are bringing in today.
I believe the next CEO of Microsoft will be Stephen Elop, the current CEO of Nokia. Nokia is mobile and global, exactly what Microsoft needs.
What about you? Vote — and leave your comments below.