Let’s try to be fair to Ballmer
David Heinemeir Hansson has laid waste to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in his diatribe “You couldn’t pay me to work for Ballmer“. The dubious “evidence” he uses is the comparison of Microsoft stock prices of the 1990s to the 2000s. For one thing, the inflated bubble stock prices of the 1990s were artificially valuated at 2010 levels and were corrected back to normal trend lines in the crash of 2000. The other problem with Hansson’s analysis is that Bill Gates remained at Microsoft nearly full time for much of the 2000s.
Hansson used the following chart to illustrate his point:
Chart by Erik Pukinskis of Sprout Robot
But if we compared Microsoft stocks the other tech titans of the industry like Cisco and IBM and the S&P 500 (chart below), Microsoft is right around the industry average. Apple’s performance has simply been unusually good as they experienced two massive rebirths with the success of the iPod and then the success of the iPhone under the reign of Steve Jobs.
To be clear, Microsoft has some serious problems to tackle and the somewhat recent loss of Bill Gates was certainly detrimental to the company. They’ve lost much time and market share in the smart phone space and now they might be losing the TV space as well. Having Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer at the helm doing the things they do best is obviously better than just having Steve Ballmer at the helm, but that’s a reality that Microsoft has to deal with. Someday, Apple will have to face the inevitability of losing Steve Jobs and Apple stocks probably shakes every time Steve Jobs coughs.
This isn’t to say that Steve Ballmer is the perfect CEO for the job. He was wrong to initially oppose the Xbox which was one of the few success stories for Microsoft over the last decade and he was wrong on Windows Vista in believing that the company could allow OS performance to slip due to improving hardware. But Microsoft is capable of learning from its mistakes and they did that with Windows 7 and they seem to be doing the necessary house cleaning to maintain their competitive edge.
Update 2:40PM – Ed Bott has some great analysis here as well and writes:
“Meanwhile, it takes a certain amount of panache (and perhaps some amnesia) on the part of M. Gassée to criticize Ballmer’s performance. This is, after all, the guy who left Apple in 1990 to found Be Inc. Six years later he turned down Apple’s offer to buy the company, reportedly for an amount between $110 million and $200 million. In 2001, Be Inc. closed its doors, and Palm, Inc. wound up buying the company’s assets for $11 million. Now that’s a lost decade.”