Renewed Lift Needed

By Joe Wilcox  |  Posted 2008-06-24 Print this article Print

Analysts agreed that Microsoft will need renewed technical leadership if it hopes to compete with Web 2.0 platform companies such as Google. And the company's sales leaders have yet to show that they can do that.

For example, Ballmer and Johnson were among the principal architects of the Yahoo takeover, which ended disastrously. Rather than getting Yahoo and boosting search market share, Microsoft's unsolicited bid precipitated a search and advertising deal between Google and Yahoo.

Future growth in the online arena will require Gates-like vision and execution. Directions on Microsoft's Helm described "online" as the "flavor of the day," but said the picture there is surprisingly muddy in terms of Gates' successor. "Ozzie and his direct reports are clearly behind the experimental online services Microsoft is putting up for developers," Helm said.

More broadly, the other successors largely have a sales and marketing, and not technical, lineage.

"For business services like Exchange Online, the key man is Dave Thompson," corporate vice president for Microsoft Online, Helm said. "As for consumer, it's a three-way race [among] Brian McAndrews [senior vice president, Advertiser & Publisher Solutions group], Bill Veghte, senior vice president of the Online Services & Windows Business group, and Satya Nadella, senior vice president of the Search, Portal & Advertising group. McAndrews joined Microsoft in August 2007 with the acquisition of aQuantive. "Of the three, Satya has the most Bill-like technical record," Helm said.

Logistically, Gates has no clear successor, nor, for that matter, is there a clear successor to Ballmer. The chairman and the CEO were college poker buddies and are longtime Microsoft employees. While their leadership styles differ, longevity makes them almost synonymous with Microsoft. Gates' exit took more than eight years. Maybe the question to ask is, Who could replace Ballmer?

Muglia comes to mind as one leader with strong technical leadership and bottom-line growth success for his line of business. Koplowitz described Muglia as a "technical genius like Ozzie, but with better Microsoft cred."

Still, none of the analysts interviewed for this story suggested that Muglia would come to run Microsoft or even one of the three major divisions.

What Microsoft needs in the post-Gates era, they suggested, is strong technical leadership that inherits from the co-founder. Unfortunately, no one Microsoft executive embodies that. But, together, Muglia and Ozzie come closest.

 Joe Wilcox is the editor of Microsoft Watch.


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