So would Microsoft be better off without Ballmer? Should he be replaced?
I haven't touched on this because I think that our woes are not about one person (even the CEO) but rather about a whole mess of persons that we can do without. But as of late, the comments here and elsewhere have been more and more anti-Ballmer.
About two years ago, I was surfing the web after War Team and followed a Forbes article off of MoneyCentral grading various CEOs. Ballmer got a 31% approval rating. I was in shock. Microsoft's CEO getting such a low rating? Worse than Carly? Whoa. This was the first crack in my rose-colored reading glasses. I was actually so mad at such a horrible assessment of my beloved CEO that I voted with my browsers "back" button. Come on, Ballmer doesn't only bleed the Microsoft colors, he sweats 'em!
One comment asks:
I'm not sure if it is fair to blame Ballmer for the current state of the stock value.
I mean, what has he done or not done that is impacting the stock?
Now, maybe this was just bait. Because, dang, the next comment unloaded both barrels and a good swing of an energy sword to boot:
- along with Gates, made decisions that resulted in the company being found guilty of breaking the law twice(and counting)resulting in fines, restrictions on future conduct and incalculable loss of corporate respect/credibility
- along with Gates, invested over $10B of cash in failed telecom investments that ended up being written offf
- failed to make any meaningful investments at the bottom of the market crash when numerous companies were available for cheap, MSFT had tons of cash and other smarter CEO's were taking the opp to make their companies stronger
- invested $10B's in various "emerging" businesses that even years later represent only about 10% of MSFT's revenue, aren't growing at even 10% (in BSol's case, not growing at all) and collectively aren't profitable
- taken huge charges against earnings for options expenses and related most of which has gone not to average emps but to the snr most mgt who in many cases have failed to deliver and yet bail on their shares at every opportunity (basically a non-performance performance bonus).
- as a result of several of these, has allowed the company to go FIVE years w/o increasing earnings despite revenue having grown by 50% (last time I checked, stock prices are a reflection of earnings)
- approved the onerous Licensing 6 program when many companies were hurting economically thereby pissing off a good portion of our customers and fueling the move to Open Source.
- has been at the helm as MSFT failed to take security seriously and then has had to drop everything to play catch up, missed the paid search move and had to play catch up, missed the move to web services and had to play catch up, missed the portable music wave and had to play catch up, let IE stagnate and had to play catch up, and now seemingly can't ship any major product on time even stripped of formely core features (can you say Longhorn, CRM, SQL, VS, etc. etc. etc?).
- has been at the helm as MSFT's overall growth has slowed from 20-30% to less than 10% and forecast to slow further with no seeming end in sight.
- despite the stock having lost 50% over the past 5 years, approved/promoted the $32B payout plan when virtually every expert suggested that doing an accretive acq, a larger buyback or increasing the ongoing dividend would all be better for the stock -with the subsequent catastrophic results.
- as a result of all this, has basically lost the confidence of Wall St and investors, who no longer see MSFT as well managed/positioned/aggressive but rather poorly managed/increasingly poorly positioned and always playing catch up. Hence the massive recent sell-off, the new 52-week low, the historically low P/E and the current 30% discount to its peer group which if anything is getting wider. Indeed, I think the prevailing sentiment has gone from "MSFT is solid, it's only a matter of time until they rebound" to "Is this company done?". There have even been several articles in the popular press recently making exactly that case.
Can I stop now or would you like more examples? Not questioning his desire, but the facts suggest that he may not have the ability/judgement required and sometimes simply making a change can shake things up for the positive. One thing is for sure, weakness breeds more weakness in companies, stocks, etc. So either we start showing we're not done and start [positively] surprising people with our products, business moves, results, etc, or else those doubting us are likely to be proved correct.
The stock is in a piss-poor state of affairs right now. It would be good for senior management to come out and address the current reality of the stock and the analysts views that things aren't rosy and even when we do release Longhorn that it most likely won't be much of a boost to the stock. Things are not destined to get better anytime soon. MSN paid search, while a good idea, is only going to help the stock price from skidding below the mid-20s and just plain hold the line, not make it rocket off into the stratosphere.
But if the approach to lack of interesting products is to start talking up Blackcomb and all the cool whizzy features we'll be releasing then, well, you can be sure that this rhetoric is best accompanied by the band playing on the sinking Titanic.
We're getting ready to go through a rough haul and it's going to take a lot more than towel cut-backs and office-supply consolidation. We need a massive reorganization and a nice, big-fat trimming of staff, worldwide. Those that are left can roll-up their sleeves and impress the hell out of the world.