By Ed Oswald | Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm
It can’t be that much fun to be Steve Ballmer right now. He’s the head of a company whose stock price has been stagnant: trading at essentially the same level for much of the last eight years, safe for a few upward (and downward) blips. He’s presided over one of the company’s most high-profile failures–the Zune–and is playing playing catchup in a market you essentially helped create.
One of the most prominent successes of his tenure — the Xbox 360 — is credited to somebody else, who was rumored to have left the company over his questionable business decisions.
He’s often derided for his bombastic personality, and has technology pundits calling his tenure “The Reign of Error.” Now its come to a whole other level — investors and analysts asking for his pink slip.
Is the increasing chorus against Ballmer fair, or do others share in Microsoft’s failure? Or is this symptomatic of a larger shift among the company’s key customers, where Microsoft as a whole has fallen out of favor? You could make a case for any any of these scenarios.
Microsoft’s biggest problem right now is stagnancy. In the Ballmer era, the company has become reactive rather than proactive. Rather than seeking new markets to expand into, it follows its competitors — and often misses the mark in doing so, or makes them overly complex.
Zune, Windows Phone 7, Windows Vista, Ultra-Mobile PCs. All great examples of ideas that either came too late or were so unnecessarily overthought that consumers saw right through it or skimmed over them altogether. These mistakes have cost the company both time, and more importantly money.
Speaking of wasting money — how about Skype? Just about everyone seems to agree that $8.5 billion was a price too high for the company. I doubt the company will see a benefit equal to the price they paid for that company. Ever.
There are some out there that are calling for Bill Gates to return to the company’s helm, but that isn’t the answer either. Gates’ time is long past — his own vision is dated. Microsoft needs somebody who understands modern computing. Even he admits that people like Jobs have far more of a knack for “thoughtful product design” then he does.
Thus, Microsoft might find itself looking to the outside for the man (or woman) to guide it out of the wilderness. While it may be great to put on a public face of support for your embattled leader, at the same time the company has a responsibility to think about what life will be like beyond Ballmer.