Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Ballmer's Out? When Pigs Fly!

pigfly

The blogosphere immediately jumped all over the inevitable meme that after the Yahoo (YHOO) deal fell apart, Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer’s job was at risk.

What with the problems with the new Vista operating system and the general feeling that Microsoft’s Internet strategy is in shambles, the argument that Ballmer would be shown the door by an impatient board and replaced by former CEO and Founder Bill Gates was clear.

Actually, not so such much at all, but that has not stopped all the noise.

Maybe Ballmer should go and maybe not, but I would like some proof that’s not in evidence as yet.

Instead, this TechCrunch story was typical, full of assertions as easy to make with certainty, but just as easy to knock down.

First, it noted that Ballmer being the “big driver behind this deal at Microsoft–some would say to the point of obsession” had made him vulnerable to the board, which he was trying to impress with a “transformative” deal and that he was worried about being fired.

Actually, I would be worried if Ballmer was not obsessed, given that more than $40 billion is an awfully big bet.

And has anyone noticed how typically ineffectual most boards are (see Yahoo, see Time Warner [TWX], see them all)?

I doubt there is a major force on the board of threat to Ballmer, except Bill Gates, who has never shown the slightest inkling of turning on his longtime partner.

roadahead

Also, Gates himself fumbled with regards to the Web, and he even wrote a book about not doing that in 1995, called “The Road Ahead.”

Microsoft has bungled the Internet? It’s out of touch when it comes to the Web? Its troops have too many lifers who cannot innovate? Google (GOOG) has cleaned their clock? What!?

Of course, this has been news to exactly no one for about a decade now.

In any case, the Yahoo purchase was not the worst of ideas, if a bit obvious–although I have written several times that Microsoft should have bought up other Web 2.0 companies instead of Yahoo.

Both sides acted cloddishly, to be sure, and I am sure Microsoft’s board and execs are smarting a bit from misjudging this foray–I myself wonder how they did they not anticipate just how recalcitrant Yahoo would be.

But Microsoft’s withdrawal was clearly a better path than a hostile proxy fight.

So it did not work out (as yet)? So what? And if Microsoft stock rises tomorrow on the news, of course, all will be forgiven.

In addition, TechCrunch uses a source that is not exactly reliable, quoting “one secondhand account that leaked to us yesterday before the deal was called off,” who tells tales of Ballmer’s ranting and raving about how he wouldn’t let the board “crucify” him.

Ballmer can sometimes be a loudmouthed popinjay!? What ho?!?

Also news to exactly three people in the tech sector and they have been in an isolation tank since 1976.

More to the point, I got that exact anonymous email too, and it was credible and from someone with some good information.

But I felt I could not use the Ballmer info without more proof (also, I would need to know who this person is or find other non-anonymous-to-me people to bear its assertions out).

While compelling and sent in very good faith by an obviously smart person, as many of these types of emails are, I figured the lively emailer was probably from someone close to or even one of the many disgruntled employees of Microsoft who did not like the Yahoo deal.

There were lots of them, as BoomTown reported here, but I determined the emails were just wishful thinking.

But you be the judge!

Here’s two sections from the emails I got in their entirety related to Ballmer (with some minor edits to protect the sender) that TechCrunch clearly used verbatim, so you can see the whole thing rather than the pulled quotes:

Ballmer really does think his job is on the line if he doesn’t close the Yahoo deal, and soon. He’s worried after the fiasco that was the Windows Vista launch, then this, the Board will ask Gates to stay on while they find someone to replace him. Apparently this has caused Ballmer to be more of a tyrant than ususal, yelling and screaming at employees for almost no reason. Some Microsofties are secretly wishing the deal falls through so that Ballmer will get the axe and Microsoft will get new leadership.”

and

The particular incident… was that an exec made a comment about not having to worry about Ballmer anymore if this Yahoo deal falls through. He didn’t realize Ballmer was within earshot. Ballmer started yelling and screaming that this deal would go through and that the board wouldn’t be able to ‘crucify’ him over this. The scuttlebutt suggests that the board was ready to walk because they fear this deal is proving to be to big of a distraction, but Ballmer is obsessed with making it happen in order to protect his job. The board gave him one more week to get it done….many in Microsoft belive Gates will stay on if asked because even Gates realizes that Ballmer needs to go.”

Like I said: Wishful thinking.

This, of course, does not absolve Ballmer from having to come up with some very smart moves and fast to at least keep competitive with archrival Google and also figure out a way to protect its Windows software franchise in the wake of Google’s cloud computing effort.

But that is a longer and more vicious ground war that will go one for a long time.

Yahoo might be Ballmer’s Vietnam or Iraq, as still other bloggers are writing, but let’s keep in mind that the first went on for decades and the second, unfortunately, is still slogging on.


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