A leading position is up for grabs at one of the nation’s most storied organizations, and it might be one of the least appealing around.
While whoever is hired will be paid handsomely, he or she must turn around an organization that has repeatedly failed to live up to expectations, and they’ll be operating under a media spotlight and second-guessed on every move they make.
If you guessed the Washington Redskins, you’d be close — but that pressure-cooker position reportedly has just been filled by Jay Gruden.
No, the unenviable post in question right now is chief executive officer of Microsoft (MSFT) … though MSFT and the Redskins have an awful lot in common right now.
The Redskins of the Tech Industry?
Like the Redskins, Microsoft is a highly valued and highly visible veteran of its industry. Also like the Redskins, Microsoft is flailing and has been for years.
But perhaps most important, MSFT’s best performances have been in the past. When Steve Ballmer took over as Microsoft CEO in January 2000, MSFT was trading near $60; within a year it had plunged to near $25, and has spent most of the last decade below $30.
In the meantime, former conference bottom-dweller Apple (AAPL) re-invented itself and surpassed Microsoft as the world’s most valuable technology company.
With the PC business Microsoft relies on fading, Ballmer tried to re-invent the company as a services and devices business, but the results haven’t gelled in a meaningful way. Now, Ballmer is out, and the hunt is on for a new Microsoft CEO — likely the technology industry’s highest pressure position.
Plenty to Tackle as Microsoft CEO
But who would want to be Microsoft CEO considering the challenges?
Shareholders are impatient after more than a decade of MSFT treading water, and they’re watching upstarts like Apple and Google (GOOG) repeatedly eat Microsoft’s lunch. The decline of PC sales is even worse than had been forecast, expected to drop 10% in 2013 — cutting into the Windows and Office revenue that’s Microsoft’s bread and butter. At the same time, cheap Google Chromebooks came out of nowhere to take 21% of all U.S. laptop sales in 2013.
Microsoft’s first run at tablets was years late and ended in disaster with a $900 million writedown on unsold Surface RT tablets — reportedly the final straw that led to Ballmer’s ouster.
MSFT’s tablet-inspired Windows 8 operating system failed to come anywhere near sales expectations, and the company has been in damage control since, fighting to tweak the OS to keep from alienating longtime Windows users.
In the meantime, its Windows Phone 8 platform has displaced BlackBerry (BBRY) for third place, but still remains below a 4% worldwide market share. And that volume is almost entirely accounted for by Nokia (NOK), the struggling smartphone maker Microsoft is now buying with the intention of folding its Lumia phones under the “devices” wing.