Go Home, Bill

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Cringely says, Go Home, Bill:

The last two executive actions on the part of Bill Gates that had singular effects on the future of Microsoft were: 1) his 1995 Think Week that resulted in Microsoft shifting course to flow with the “Internet Tidal Wave,” ultimately destroying Netscape, and; 2) his 1988 decision to back Jeff Raikes’ proposal to bundle most of Microsoft’s productivity applications into what they called Microsoft Office, which effectively destroyed all Microsoft’s competitors for shrink-wrapped applications. The first action was that of a strong chief executive operating at the very top of his game while the second was that of a major shareholder who was willing to accept lower earnings in the short term for the long-term success of his investment.

These were radical and dynamic positions to take that resulted in creating thousands of millionaires in the greatest peacetime transfer of wealth since OPEC. But they were also 13 and 20 years ago, respectively. If Gates took another Think Week and determined Microsoft’s future lay in baked goods or virtualization, could he turn the entire company toward one or both of those product directions today? I don’t think so.

No one person can control Microsoft today, which has been obvious to Gates for at least eight years, since that’s how long ago he put Steve Ballmer in the CEO job. For at least eight years, then, these guys have known that their jobs are not so much to steer the Microsoft ship as to try and keep it from drifting onto the rocks. That’s the way it is with huge and successful companies. At best you can trim the sails, because to come about (to significantly shift direction) is just too dangerous for the money machine.

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