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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Bill Gates Coming out of Retirement?

by an Anonymous Microsoftie

Bill Gates Coming out of Retirement?When I saw the op-end piece in The New York Times this morning by Dick Brass, I thought it was time to submit an article somewhere about this pattern of facts. I came across Blogging Innovation today and thought it might make an interesting place to cast some daylight on the possibilities. I shouldn't get into any trouble because I am just stating facts and asking questions, and I don't even mention certain names.

So here goes...

Just in the past month there have been some really strange things that by themselves might not amount to much, but if you look at the facts as a collection, it starts to make one wonder if something is up over at Microsoft. Microsoft is in fact my employer and I am the first to admit that I don't know of any secrets on this subject. I am just seeing some odd patterns, and I started to wonder if they add up to Bill Gates coming out of "retirement" to fix Microsoft.

The facts exist in a couple of different categories, and the first is the signs of trouble internally:
  1. Systemic problems. In The New York Times today, a former Microsoft executive wrote a lengthy opinion piece called "Microsoft's Creative Destruction" where he lays out some vivid examples of problems within the company - specifically that the Office and Windows franchises have run their course and there are no obvious heirs, despite several attempts that were quashed for personal and political reasons. Very compelling. But it does beg the question - why now? What is the reason for that op-ed piece?

  2. Executives are leaving. CFO Chris Liddell did an amazing job as CFO and just left to be the CFO of General Motors, where it has been widely speculated that he will be their next CEO. Senior Vice President Bill Veghte, an almost 20 year veteran also just resigned because he also wants to be the CEO of an organization. Again, why now? Were Liddell and Veghte told that they weren't candidates to be the next CEO? There aren't many people who can come in and take that job.

  3. Wall Street disapproval. With a brand new CFO, last week Microsoft announced much higher than expected profits, and the stock dropped. Why? Some have speculated that any time a company like Microsoft misses expectations in either direction that substantially, it is a sign that they don't have a real handle on what's going on. Who has the credibility to get Wall Street excited about Microsoft, there are not a lot of people who could do it quickly.

  4. Mostly flat stock for ten years. There have been some big fluctuations, but if you look back at the last ten years, the stock has been basically flat, and that isn't sustainable. Could you imagine what the stock would do if Bill Gates came back to be the CEO?

The other side of this that's intriguing is that Bill Gates has taken on a dramatically more public persona related to his foundation work, from Twitter, to Facebook, to The Daily Show (where he was engaging and funny). Here are some facts that are interesting:
  1. Foundation CEO is a close, trusted friend of Bill. Last year, former Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes took the job as CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and for some odd reason agreed to a really big salary even though he made a huge pile of money at Microsoft. So if Bill puts one of his most trusted former Microsoft execs in charge of the foundation, that then makes it possible for him to make time to go fix his "baby" - Microsoft. Why wouldn't Raikes be the one pushing all of these messages for the foundation?

  2. Bill is rebranding. For many years, Bill Gates had a bit of a Darth Vader reputation. People literally called Microsoft "the evil empire" and Bill was the leader for all of the anti-competitive things that were alleged to have happen in those days. Now Microsoft is seen by many as irrelevant in discussions about Apple, Google, and IBM. So now, Bill goes out and talks about all of the incredibly cool things his foundation is doing, people are becoming "fans" of his on Facebook by the thousands every day, he's being buddy-buddy with Jon Stewart and he is becoming really cool and really popular, while still being one of the smartest guys in the world. What a great story to have Joe Cool go in to fix his ailing "baby"

  3. It wouldn't be the first time. Michael Dell came back to Dell, Jerry Yang came back to Yahoo!, and there are others who have come out of retirement to fix their creation (though not always with storybook endings). Bill is only 53, he's still not that old and he has all of the credibility in the world to come back in and reinvigorate the masses. Why wouldn't he do that with the foundation in the competent hands of Jeff Raikes and Bill's wife Melinda?

As I said, I haven't heard any rumors about this, but it certainly makes for an interesting narrative and it would explain a lot of the above. Personally, I think it would be great to see and Microsoft people would do backflips to have Bill back at the helm, Google would cringe, and Wall Street would cheer and I would bet on a storybook ending.

So hopefully Bill is considering coming out of retirement, and he can take Bill Brass's op-ed piece as input into imagining what is needed at Microsoft.

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Our Anonymous Microsoftie would prefer to remain anonymous so we have not included his or her picture here. If you have any inside information to add, please add a comment or contact us.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Microsoft invests a lot of money in "astroturf" where they pay people to write news articles advancing Microsoft's positions while pretending to be completely independent of Microsoft. Late last year there was a spate of Microsoft astroturf trying to pin the blame for Microsoft's many failed software projects on either Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer. It was very similar to a shouting match between the two men about who was to blame. Mary Jane Foley provides another interesting clue to what might going on when she chronicles the many forced resignations among Microsoft's inner circle in the last year.

My guess as to what is happening is that Bill Gates is trying to fire Steve Ballmer. Steve Ballmer is defending himself by forcing out Microsoft executives who are more loyal to Bill Gates than to Steve Ballmer and executives who are maneuvering to be Steve Ballmer's replacement.

I think that it is in Microsoft's best interest to fire Steve Ballmer. I also think that Bill Gates is probably the only person who is capable of beating Steve Ballmer at Microsoft power politics. But I also think that it would be Microsoft's death knell if Bill Gates replaces Steve Ballmer with himself. Maybe Bill Gates has enough self insight to realize this, maybe he doesn't.

I think that Bill Gates should fire Steve Ballmer. Then he should set up a search committee composed of some members of the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors should select someone who has no connection with Microsoft as the new president and give him free reign. At that point Bill Gates should resign as Chairman of the Board and walk away from Microsoft forever.

Steve Stites

8:01 PM  
Blogger Bill Hill said...

The launch of Apple's iPad is a much more likely reason for the timing of Dick's op-ed piece than it being part of some "Return of the Prodigal Son" campaign.

12:43 PM  
Anonymous nottinhill said...

Great Article. Gates would never fire Ballmer, the man who stood up to him in the early years when Gates nearly self-destructed the firm with his short temper. Also the NYT article is absolutely true, no more innovation coming from Microsoft in general like eBooks, socialMedia, or Phones, at least thats why I left the firm. The article's timing is obviously linked to the iPad's release. But serioulsy - who trusts web 0.0 media anyway.. www.meshfields.de/blog

5:13 PM  
Anonymous RainCaster said...

I sure hope this happens. Microsoft has been coasting for so many years, and the changes that Sinofski has made to the Windows Division are stupid beyond measure. Robbi Bach's empire is no better- the Zune is a dead-end product and Windows Mobile is beyond sunset. The best run division is LCA- what does that say about how MSFT is being run?

Several people have come and gone from that company, each given the task of improve the company's internal culture. Each has left in frustration because change has to start at the top, and Balmer likes himself just the way he is...

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think BG will come back, and here's why: IMHO, he left because he wanted to get out before the blame for the slow demise of MS could be blamed on him. Let Ballmer take the hit. Instead, he could go save the world and be remembered for that. Assuming I am right about why he left...there's no reason why he would go back. It would ruin his chances of being remembered for something good...since a rosy future of Microsoft is doubtful.

10:47 AM  

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