Steve Ballmer & Microsoft’s Lost Decade
Steve Ballmer, CEO Microsoft since January 2000 is to retire from his post within the next 12 months. Rumours are that our man was asked to march since the board was not too please about the $900 Million write offs on a spate of current projects. Within a few hours of this release, Microsoft stock jumped by $2.36 (7.3%) over a broad trade of 223.3 million shares. The news of Ballmer’s exit added an immediate $20 billion to Microsoft’s capitalization.
Over the course of last 14 years, Microsoft hasn’t really done significantly different – besides sharing the spoils with investors in terms of dividends. Yes, it has increased the market capital of Microsoft – but as far as results go – there is hardly anything much on the board. With Ballmer at the helm – Microsoft has actually offered negative returns. Ballmer can be credited with an effort to shift strategies at Microsoft – but it didnot really pay off.
If you compare the indices of Microsoft versus Dwo Jones, NASDAQ and S&P500, the picture that comes through is an eye opener.
To put the numbers – Dow Jone outperformed Microsoft by 3X in Ballmer’s Decade, S&P outdid Microsoft by 10% through the Decade. The face saver was NASDAQ, the technology index itself dropped by 10%. Compare Microsoft’s stagnant share price to 700% increase in Gooogle’s share price value and a 1600% escalation in share price of Apple.
Infact, Apple’s Get a Mac campaign was a very clever lampoon of the archetypical Ballmer personality. In Ballmer’s decade, Apple overshadowed the Redmund giant and emerged as the quintessential technology business after bringing the revolutionary iPod, iPhone, and iPad platforms to market. To date, only Google Android has emerged as a formidable rival to the popular Apple iOS operating system. Meanwhile, Microsoft and Ballmer have been literally caught with their pants down. In hindsight – Ballmer never really estimated the eco-system effects and advantages and consequentially was never able to capitalize.
Ballmer met some degree of success with the Microsoft XBox and Kinect – the only game changers. However, XBox and Kinect have not translated into any huge seismic impact – quite unlike the other Steve in town – the one from Apple.
Steve Ballmer’s greatest gambit (and his greatest failure in course) was Windows 8 – The equivalent to the promised land for Microsoft – the back bone of Microsoft’s future in personal computing from Tablets to Laptops to Smartphones. A year of Windows 8 later –
1. Windows 8 has not even nudged the cash registers at Microsoft
2. Reports have suggested that Windows 8 sales and adoption has trailed behind Vista at similar points of Product Life cycle chronologies
3. Windows is still some distance from being able to make a mark in the Tablet segment even while PC Desktops and Laptops keep getting written off… PC Markets have been shrinking for 5 consecutive quarters and there appears no hope of recovery in the horizon
4. At low single digits market shares in Smartphones and Tablet markets – Microsoft is a relative non factor. At Microsoft’s scale – they ought to be looking at upstaging Android and not be overjoyous about the decline in Apple.
It is perhaps ironical, that Microsoft and its Wintel partnership must fail to Moore’s law. Wintel understood the law pretty well in terms of size and power management principles – but miscalculated the consumption shift towards smartphones and tablets.
To sum up, Steve Ballmer has been very instrumental and effective in running existing product lines – but in terms of innovation and new products – Ballmer has been less than good and the 13 years at helm of Microsoft have been years of opportunity loss – Microsoft’s lost Decade.