Disclosure: I worked at Microsoft 2008-2009. Microsoft stock is a meaningful part of my portfolio.
With the announcement of Steve Ballmer’s pending departure from Microsoft, the stock shot up the value of 8 Aols. Clearly the market is happy to see Ballmer go. In his tenure at the company, the stock fell 35%.
My pal Paul Kedrosky nails the reason for this: it’s what happens when you put a sales guy at the head of a company instead of a product visionary. (See also: Aol.) Sales guys care about numbers above all else and promote others who care about numbers.
My time at Microsoft reminded me a lot of my time in the newspaper industry. The guys (and they were mostly guys) controlling the old line businesses had all the money and power. If you couldn’t prove that your business would be at least a $500 million business in a few years, it wouldn’t get any attention.
And if it started to get traction but posed a threat to their numbers, they were happy to squash it.
That’s why I think David Sacks should be Microsoft’s next chief executive. He’s the founder and CEO of Yammer, which Microsoft acquired for $1.2 billion in July, 2012.
Sacks is a product visionary with many successes under his belt. Most recently, he sold Yammer to Microsoft.
He is at the forefront of the consumerization of enterprise and understands what it takes to build those products. Twenty years ago, people weren’t used to computers. So they accepted shitty software because they didn’t know what good software looked like. Now they do. Being better than Lotus Notes is not good enough anymore — you have to be as good as the software people use outside the office.
Sacks also understands that purchasing behavior doesn’t change overnight. The initial hope with Yammer was that individual users would pull it into organizations. (I pulled it into an organization I was working with.) But that’s not how most purchasing decisions are made, especially at large companies. You still need field sales. So Yammer built out a sales team.
Having done both consumer products and enterprise sales, I know these are vastly different worlds.
Going forward, I think Microsoft needs to focus more on the consumer. But it can’t ignore the enterprise, which pays the big bills.
Appointing Sacks as CEO would be a radical departure for Microsoft. But it’s the kind of radical thinking Microsoft needs.
Rakesh Agrawal is a consultant focused on the intersection of local, social, mobile and payments. He is a principal analyst at reDesign mobile. Previously, he launched local, mobile and search products for Microsoft, Aol and washingtonpost.com. He blogs at http://redesignmobile.com and tweets at @rakeshlobster.