Microsoft (MSFT) says it will have a new CEO in the “early part” of this year.
Whenever that may be, it will be behind schedule.
Microsoft was hoping to have a new CEO in place by November or December, say Shira Ovide and Joann Lubin at the Wall Street Journal.
The reason Microsoft doesn’t have a new CEO right now, according to Ovide and Lubin, is that the job isn’t all that appealing thanks to two big problems: One is called Bill Gates and the other is called Steve Ballmer.
“At least some external executives who discussed the CEO job with Microsoft directors have expressed concerns about being hamstrung if the two men continue to serve on the board, according to people familiar with their thinking,” report Ovide and Lubin.
In particular, the Journal’s reporters go after Ballmer pretty hard: “Some candidates for the top post at Microsoft seem to be particularly uneasy about Mr. Ballmer, according to people familiar with their thinking. He has made several recent decisions that have altered the company’s strategy and generated controversy among managers and investors.”
Just before Ballmer announced his retirement, he created a sweeping re-organization of the company. This has led to a lot of talented engineers leaving Microsoft as they either lost battles for promotions, or found themselves in new, less-desirable roles.
A new CEO will be stuck with Ballmer’s re-org, which was done with the board’s support. Or the new CEO will have to tear it up, which means another period of awkward transition for Microsoft, and for the new CEO, an awkward board dynamic, since Ballmer is still on the board.
Then, after announcing his retirement, Ballmer spent $7.2 billion buying Nokia (NOK), a dying handset maker. This is a turnaround project within Microsoft the next chief executive will have to deal with.
Ballmer is expected to be on Microsoft’s board. And, as the WSJ notes, he’s not a quiet guy who will sit idly if a new CEO tries to rip up everything he’s done.
Then there’s Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, the richest person in the world, a guy who is mostly revered in Microsoft, and has his own very strong opinions about what Microsoft should be doing next.
The problem, though, is that Gates isn’t attuned to what’s happening in tech the way he once was. He’s busy saving the world. His time is spent meeting with heads of state, and figuring out how to cure poverty and global disease. His brain power is not trained 100% on iPads, servers, enterprise software, and web-based software. (When you’re fighting Larry Page at Google (GOOG), Jeff Bezos at Amazon (AMZN) and Tim Cook at Apple (AAPL), who spend every second of the day thinking about tech, you need to be just as focused.)
Anyone that’s CEO will have Gates bending his or her ear. And they can’t just ignore Gates.
In addition to Gates and Ballmer, Microsoft is also about to add an activist board member. ValueAct, which took a stake in Microsoft, is getting its own board member starting this year. Although, the ValueAct board member could be helpful to the new CEO, since ValueAct wants Microsoft to change its ways.
If the board room dynamics weren’t difficult enough, there’s the actual company which has gone from a near-monopoly in computing to an almost also-ran status in consumer tech.
So, yeah, it’s a tough job!
But, there is only 1 job like this available in the world. And if you’re scared off by all the above, you shouldn’t take the job. Microsoft is going to have to have to find the right person, even if it takes a little longer than expected.