Monday, July 14, 2008

The Tumbling Tumbleweeds of Summer

(Rocking back and forth in the rocking chair after a nice fine sunny NW day - pity they have WiFi in so many places nowadays...)

Oh, hi.

Looks like it's going to be tumbling tumbleweeds here for a while, at least until the weather turns rainy again (bizarre pre-4th thunderstorms excluded).

Perhaps as a sign of resignation here, I'm far more interested in enjoying some concerts and great hiking than sharing any perspectives about my take on Microsoft. I look back four years ago from when I started sharing my conversation, and it's sort of a wash. Yes, we've had some flattening that Jack Welch even might grunt a tacit approval to. Internet Explorer reformed. There was a revamping of the 4.0/3.5/3.0 scale. Towels. But JHC, we continue to balloon and expand with no rhyme and reason, and cutting back in employee size is the tune I came here to sing. So, enjoying a breeze off of Puget Sound is a lot more pleasurable than thinking about our constricting bloat.

First thing: for those in Redmond / Seattle who read this post right while it's fresh, Ms. Mary Jo Foley, author of the book Microsoft 2.0, will be in Redmond to discuss all things Redmond on July 22nd: Bringing Microsoft 2.0 to Microsoft. 6pm. Malt & Vine. 16851 Redmond Way.

BillG put in his goodbye since my last post. Pick up Ms. Foley's book and read the Mini-Microsoft foreword for some of my feelings around that. Look, BillG is not replaceable. No one is going to take his place at Microsoft. I mostly enjoyed his goodbye presentation, though I had to shake my head when Ballmer reflected that Bill's greatest parting gift to us was the culture of Microsoft. No, that's messy. You can impart a culture and expect it to continue in your daily absence. Bill's culture fades day to day, unless the emerging leadership truly pushes forward with it as their own. But can they even live up to him? No. Time for a new culture, one that makes sense for our current challenges and that shows the level of quality of our leadership.

As a small example of culture: I'm back to reading some business books. It's pretty sad that I have to read Jack Welch to get an understanding of the basis of our differentiated rewards review system, vitality curve and all. I may not agree with it, but at least Mr. Welch takes time to explain its application, end-to-end, to the huge organization that GE is. Which is more than Microsoft leadership does. We just sort of assimilated it, bolted it on, and said "it is what it is."

As BillG heads out, Ballmer's in the middle of leading this classic Pacific Northwest passive aggressive can't make a clear decision to save our lives play for Yahoo! Well, as of today, less passive, more agressive. I feel like we are Yahoo!'s creepy and inappropriate neighbor, peeking through the slates in the fence, asking for a date whenever given a chance. And, oooo!, the Yahoo!s have a new boarder moving in, Carl! Carl's not exactly our friend, but he will invite us over to hang. We're gonna get a date with that cute Yahoo! chick yet! She has an awesome car we've been dying to drive around town.

For Yahoo! we stumbled over our own feet and had to put away the hostile takeover knife we pulled, and in the immediate aftermath was folks wondering: "Gee, this Ballmer guys needs to be replaced. But with who? There's no obvious replacement. Dude. Looks like Microsoft better just keep him."

That's scary in two ways: one, the lack of confidence and respect the community has for Mr. Ballmer's leadership and results (though, a large part of this is riding on Kevin Johnson's shoulders). Then, two: not to wish bad things, but if Mr. Ballmer was run over by a truck (American made, thank you): then what? Who'd take his place?

In short order, Mr. Ballmer has to start a race, running from President down to Corporate VP, to identify his successor. My money was always riding on Jeff Raikes, but BillG has Mr. Raikes now. I'm concerned about who Mr. Ballmer and the board would choose. Some golf-club flim-flam smooth-talker, someone who thinks another Microsoft-branded web browser would be a swell idea? Someone who has never written a piece of software in their lives, let alone shipped and supported it?

No, not to run Microsoft.

I guess I'll spend some time lingering over the VP biographies (trying not to sigh and swoon [remember: inappropriate]). Who would you follow? Who do you respect? I don't care if you hate their guts, who would you want to step up and lead Microsoft in the years ahead?

As part of the challenge of discovering a worthy, I hope this year's Company Meeting returns and builds out the theme of Many Microsofts. I'm a fool for thinking of one leader to run it all, perhaps. But we need some obvious folks to step up. Cos we're not there.

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