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Saving Microsoft and the Second Coming of Amazon

I guess you heard that Steve Ballmer will retire in the next 12 months? Well, bully for him, why didn’t it happen sooner? We all know that Microsoft has slipped dramatically in value for almost his entire tenure

So who’s next? What is the Great Succession of Microsoft? It isn’t easy to restore the fortunes of a company well past its prime. Just ask Ron Johnson, lately of J.C Penney or  Edward  Lampert, still (sadly) of Sears.

In this situation boards usually do one of two things. Either they bring back the founder or they hire a “celebrity” CEO.

So as to the first, how about we do a Jobs andbring back Bill Gates? Yep, he is a bit over the hill at 57, but he is the founder and he knows how to transform a global market. There’s not too many people like that. And he has a social conscience, good for getting a new class of investors, people who care, another source of support.

But that’s assuming that he wants the job. Even if he does, does Melinda want to become an employee again? And if he did get the job, does he still have the mojo? Or will he just be another Michael Dell, trying to fan the fast dying embers of an almost-exhausted fire? It might also just be the case that Bill Gates has now acquired enough wisdom to realize that he isn’t the best guy for the job either.

How about hiring another successful founder? Well if they are that successful, why would they go to somewhere like Microsoft? Hardly a career positive.

What about what I call a “celebrity” CEO? Celebrity CEOs don’t have to have been a CEO before; examples are Ron Johnson or Carly Fiorina of Hewlett Packard or Marissa Mayer of Yahoo. Usually they are people who are regarded as movers and shakers that come with experience from a cool company (Ron Johnson from Apple/Target, Carly Fiorina from Lucent which was cool at the time, and Marissa Mayer from Google, ‘nuff said). This experience is supposed to rub off on the new company. Of course it almost never does.

The problem with celebrity CEOs is that they have almost never been a founder. Usually this is forgiven in the erroneous belief that if you have worked for a founder or an emerging ultra-successful company you will absorb their smarts through your pores. So they usually haven’t been leaders, in the sense of having led (as distinct from managed) a whole organization. That is, they never started anything themselves. They never ate their own cooking.

And often such individuals can properly be regarded as being accomplished corporate bureaucrats rather than agents of transformation. Sure, they are talented but there’s a world of difference between someone who has started a succssful company and someone who has been an employee all their life, even if they have been good at it. So there’s a something je ne sais quo missing.

So what to do? Bill Gates won’t come back, and even if he did it probably wouldn’t work. Celebrity CEOs usually don’t work and  ultra-successful founders won’t apply. It’s not (yet) time for the turnaround guys either.

Time to think outside the box. What about Jeff Bezos? He doesn’t want the job but he might be convinced to buy Microsoft, maybe for a bit more than the $250 million he paid for the Washington Post though….

Obviously the new company would be called Amazoft. The Microsoft name would go up to the happy hunting grounds in the sky where it belongs.

Hey presto, problem  solved! Microsoft, now Amazoft, has a cool, hip, young, ultra-successful CEO. One that has a head in the future, where it should belong. A proven innovator and risk taker who is not afraid to be wrong. A guy who has changed whole industries and who still has time to transform a couple more yet. Employees and shareholders happy, maybe even Bill Gates.

Then Amazoft goes on to bigger and better things. First buys IBM. Then Baidu, in China. Then China.

Then it rules the world for 20 years. This comes to an end when Bezos retires to become head of the UN and appoints the 2030s Doppelganger of Balmer. Then Amazoft goes into a prolonged decline and the whole cycle starts again with yet another fascinating succession. Will they find another Bezos?

When this all happens, as it obviously will, just remember to tell your friends that you read it here first. :)

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