Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

CEO Search — Does One Microsoft Need Two Leaders?

one-two-punch

One of the more intriguing concepts in the recent speculation about who will be the next CEO of Microsoft was raised last week in a note by Nomura analyst Rick Sherlund.

In it, the well-connected Sherlund tried to solve one of the key issues that many inside and outside of the company are having about finding a new leader for the sprawling software giant: The difficulty of selecting between an exec who has business chops and one who is a tech product visionary.

So far, most of the candidates — whose names have been much reported here and elsewhere over the past few weeks — fit squarely in one of those boxes.

The business-fixer moniker has been especially true of one of the leading names Microsoft’s board has talked to: Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who helped advise outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer in Microsoft’s recent restructuring, called “One Microsoft.”

As for the product guru, many inside the company have been rooting for former Microsoft exec Paul Maritz, who has met with chairman and co-founder Bill Gates. Maritz is currently the CEO of cloud computing company Pivotal, a joint venture of EMC and VMware, where he had been CEO.

The concept of both of them together in a kind of twin mind-meld intrigued Sherlund, as it does many:

“Mr. Mulally could mind the store and manage changes in the business, while the exciting development work is managed by Mr. Maritz,” Sherlund said. “We think that this is a match that could work, and that investors would obviously be thrilled if it came about.”

The insider and outsider configuration is certainly an interesting concept in theory and, thus, can seem very attractive. Unfortunately, in practice, it is definitely a bit more chaotic to manage.

In fact, the duo scheme did not work well in the first few years after Gates stepped down as CEO in favor of outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer and became chief strategy officer, and not when Ray Ozzie took over that job later.

Also, Maritz is highly unlikely to take such a job.

Still, Sherlund ignores these kind of pesky realities, and went further into the fantasy scenarios, even if they might end up creating more of a goat rodeo, by noting that Microsoft should buy Evernote and Box to turbocharge its prospects.

Said Sherlund: “The reorganization at Microsoft is intended to facilitate collaboration and drive more common technology across the product lines and benefit ROI and consistent user experiences. We think this is great, but it is solving the wrong problem. Microsoft has an innovation problem.”

Maybe so, but — for now at least — it has a CEO problem to solve first.


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