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Dana Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist for over 25 years and has covered the online world professionally since 1985. He founded the "Interactive Age Daily" for CMP Media, and has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and dozens of other publications over the years.
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December 13, 2005

Surrender, Billy

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Posted by Dana Blankenhorn

rayozzielong.jpgIn The Wizard of Oz the Wicked Witch of the West writes "Surrender Dorothy" in the sky. But she can be destroyed by a bucket of water.

Microsoft's problems can't be solved that easily. And their best course at this point is for Bill Gates to retire.

As chief software architect and board chairman, Gates is in the way of what Microsoft must do in order to grow again.

I mean no insult by this. It's simple historical fact. Every businessperson, no matter how brilliant, has one act, one great achievement. Gates' was Windows, and all the politicking and marketing savvy needed to give it control of your PC. (Steve Jobs is the exception that proves the rule. The iPod is simply a reflection of his one true craft, which is consumer electronics marketing.)

But if a company is to survive and become a real institution it must have a second act, another life. And you get that with new leadership. IBM, Microsoft's arch-nemesis, has had three lives over the years with three great leaders:

  1. Thomas Watson Sr. built the company around the punch card machine.
  2. Thomas Watson Jr. re-built the company around the computer.
  3. Lou Gerstner re-built the company again around services.

bill%20and%20melinda%20gates.jpgMost companies, even big companies, fail to pass the torch. That's why companies die. Either the founder's vision remains alive until it takes the company down, or a new vision isn't found, or that new vision proves faulty. All great companies, even the largest ones, are in the end entrepreneurial enterprises, and Gates' vision is past its sell-by date.

Gates is lucky. (The picture is from Newsweek.) I think he realizes this fact. That's why he hired Ray Ozzie. Whether the new vision revolves around a thin client or (better yet) network services for all types of clients, the vision at this point needs to be Ozzie's, and it can't be Ozzie's if Gates is still in the building. With Gates in the building those who oppose Ozzie can simply gather around Gates, use Gates to bring Ozzie down, and fight other rear-guard actions.

Perhaps more important, it's not like Bill Gates doesn't have a life mission anymore. The work he and his wife Melinda are doing on health is vital, and consuming. Dealing with the distribution of a $35 billion fortune (which could grow still larger if Ozzie is given his head) should be a full-time job, and a very fulfilling one.

It's time for Gates to get on with it. Take your name off the door. Make Ozzie CEO. Let Ballmer run for President of the United States if he wants. And if Ozzie fails, then you can come in and try to save the day. Not before.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business Models | Business Strategy | Economics | Futurism | History | Software | personal


1. James on December 13, 2005 01:37 PM writes...

Great post and insightful. It looks to me that vitural services accessible from anywhere are the way to grow. Building upon the infrastructure already in place and creating rich apps that are both thin and cheap(on a reoccuring basis) would for sure create a new landscape for business to blossom. Enterprises could then quit focusing on managing and adding servers to the Datacenter recoup tons of expenses while service provides would/could take on that portion of the IT infrastructure management. IT departments could then do what they are there for provide techinical solution support to their clients. As well as investigate new technologies and service offerings.

One other comment: Vista is current 2.9Gb or 1 DVD, WHY? There isn't that much there to make it radically different from WinXP. We need a light windows-like os that everyone could use(lease as with all software). Something that could be initaially loaded in 10 minutes and then manage to get itself connected via a network(wired/wifi) and download what the user wants and needs to be productive.

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2. Brad Hutchings on December 13, 2005 02:10 PM writes...

The main problem with your scenario is that Bill Gates does not have the hair that Pat Riley does. A secondary problem is that Ray Ozzie does not look like Ron Jeremy. And Microsoft doesn't have Shaq or D-Wade.

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