FORTUNE -- When I reviewed Steve Ballmer's umpteenth structural reorganization of Microsoft last month -- was it only last month? -- I noted that the key missing ingredient to making the construct work was leadership. A re-jiggered Apple without Steve Jobs doing the jiggering never would have been successful. It took the man who understood the culture of the organization, was willing to make the painful cuts as well as to promote what was working, and who commanded the respect of the employees, to succeed at Apple.
So who could run Microsoft? Let's start with the names being tossed about. The first bunch is ex-Microsoft executives who lead other organizations. Paul Maritz was CEO of VMware (VMW) and currently runs a company called Pivotal. Steve Sinofsky has been kicking around academia and recently signed on for a stint with Andreessen Horowitz. Jeff Raikes runs the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I'd rule all of them out. They ran portions of Microsoft, an organization that needs a cultural re-boot, in other eras. They are too tied to the old Microsoft, despite that old Microsoft having been in its glory days. (As a problematic founder, Jobs missed most of Apple's (AAPL) decline; he arguably was around only for all but its best days.)
There's a current crop of Microsoft names being mentioned too. Tony Bates is the most credible of this list. A legitimate technologist and manager from his Cisco (CSCO) days, he presided over Skype's rejuvenation and has stuck around for a couple of years at Microsoft. Bates counts as an outsider, but he hasn't run anything nearly the size and scope of Microsoft. Julie Larson-Green and Satya Nadella are top Microsoft executives in important roles. They have 41 years of Microsoft experience between them, and that just won't cut it for the future. Next.
The real fun is in predicting outsiders. Marc Benioff and Jeff Bezos would be inspired choices if Microsoft were to buy their companies. Don't count on it. An ex-Microsoftie suggests a quasi-outsider, Yammer CEO David Sacks, a card-carrying member of the PayPal mafia. It's a fine idea, but for the absence of any evidence the entrepreneurial Sacks could handle the bureaucratic nightmare of running such massive organization.
So who is the executive with software and hardware chops and the experience with fractious, global, diverse organizations? An executive with a proven track record managing technologists and sales people? That person, surprisingly, is 62-year-old Sam Palmisano, the recently retired CEO of IBM (IBM). Think about it. Palmisano presided over the stunningly successful marketing gambit called "Smarter Planet," a campaign that unified all of IBM behind a single sales concept. He accelerated IBM's move into software, notably emphasizing the company's embrace of the Linux open-source software platform. That's a move that infuriated Microsoft. What better credentials could an outsider CEO have than having humiliated and beaten his new charges?
Yes, Palmisano is a sales guy, like Ballmer. But he also is a tech-industry jack-of-all-trades, having run all of IBM's major divisions, as described in this 2011 profile by Fortune's Jessi Hempel.
For a company like Microsoft, fixing the culture is everything, as the Wall Street Journal astutely asserted Monday. Palmisano adroitly enhanced the IBM culture Lou Gerstner left him. He also unsentimentally jettisoned the parts of the company that no longer mattered to IBM, including its PC unit, now owned by Lenovo. Such cool calculation could benefit Microsoft's disparate parts, many of which are begging to be split off from the mother ship.
Microsoft's stock jumped on news that Steve Ballmer is stepping down. Were Sam Palmisano to get the nod, it'd jump more.
It's taken a couple of days for the import of Ballmer's retirement to sink in.
FORTUNE -- For a time in the mid 1980s, Steve Ballmer used to stop by my cubby hole at Time Magazine on his visits to New York. I was a struggling staff writer and he was Bill Gates' oversized salesman, but he didn't impress me as a man with a vision or deep knowledge of computers, MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Aug 25, 2013 5:52 AM ET
Investors cheered news that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will retire, but there is no obvious successor in line.
FORTUNE -- It's hard not to feel a little bit bad for Steve Ballmer today. Not because he's finally giving up the reins at Microsoft, where his 13-year tenure as CEO has been a string of disappointments for investors, but because there's finally a figure -- arbitrary as it may be -- to MOREMiguel Helft, senior writer - Aug 23, 2013 12:43 PM ET
A video glimpse into a 30-year relationship that is the definition of frenemies.
FORTUNE -- Steve Jobs was pretty sick in Nov. 2010 when CBS (CBS) debuted its 60 Minutes app on the iPad, so it's hard to know how involved he was in the negotiations that got Apple (AAPL) the exclusive. But he probably would have got a kick out of what the venerable TV newsmagazine managed to do with MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - May 13, 2013 7:07 AM ET
"And of the great entrepreneurs of this era, people will have forgotten Steve Jobs"
FORTUNE -- Edited down to 2 minutes for your convenience, author Malcolm Gladwell's provocative remarks about which entrepreneurs will be remembered 50 years from now and which forgotten:
In a nutshell, the bestselling author (Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers) and high-end public speaker (top fee: $80,000 per hour) put Microsoft's (MSFT) Bill Gates on a pedestal ("there will be statues of Gates MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jun 10, 2012 4:57 PM ET
The Oracle of Omaha has a second rule: Don't buy companies you don't understand
FORTUNE -- Some 18,300 people -- more than attended Barack Obama's massive campaign kickoff Saturday -- showed up for Berkshire Hathaway's (BRK-A) annual shareholder's meeting in Omaha yesterday. And judging from the New York Times' live blog, it was a lot of fun. There were cartoons and comedic skits and celebrity appearances, including Bono, Bill Gates and Debbie ("Buffett Rule") Bosanek, MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - May 6, 2012 11:34 AM ET
Fortune's curated selection of tech stories from the weekend. Sign up to get the round-up delivered to you each and every day.
* Once the "brutal capitalist" of booksellers, Barnes & Noble (BKS) now finds itself the David to Amazon's Goliath. Can CEO William Lynch navigate the company and its well-received Nook readers to long-term success? The New York Times takes a look and also reveals that a new Nook is likely coming this spring. (The New MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Jan 30, 2012 3:43 AM ET
Only the Paul Allen-Bill Gates feud and Borders' liquidation prevented a clean sweep
If you ever wondered why there are so many reporters -- like this one -- covering Apple (AAPL), here's a clue:
According to Thursday's Wall Street Journal, eight out of 10 of the most-read corporate news stories on WSJ.com in 2011 were about Steve Jobs or the company he brought back from the brink of bankruptcy.
Only the nasty things MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Dec 29, 2011 7:15 AM ET
Fortune's curated selection of newsworthy tech stories from the last 24 hours. Sign up to get the round-up delivered to you every day.
* A titillating in-depth look at Andrew Mason and Groupon's inner machinations that allegedly reveals how the company rapidly evolved into a 10,000-strong organization, what Mason is really like, and why the company lost key executives like COO Margo Georgiadis earlier this year. (Business Insider)
* TechCrunch columnist MG Siegler reports that Google (GOOG) is prepping a MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Nov 1, 2011 3:30 AM ET
Among the highlights of the excerpt from Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs in the current issue of Fortune is the story of how Jobs repaired Apple's (AAPL) relationship with Microsoft (MSFT) just in time to get Bill Gates to participate in his 1997 MacWorld keynote. Jobs waited until the end to introduce, after a dramatic pause, Apple's new partner and investor. Suddenly Gates' face appeared, to boos and catcalls, on a giant screen.
"That was my MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Oct 24, 2011 12:40 PM ET
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