Former Apple executive Jean Louis Gassee has a searing column on Microsoft’s hunt for a new CEO.
First, he crushes the company’s board:
For a large, established company, having to use an executive recruiter to find its next CEO carries a profoundly bad aroma. It means that the directors failed at one of their most important duties: succession planning. Behind this first failure, a second one lurks: The Board probably gave the previous CEO free rein to promote and fire subordinates in a way that prevented successors from emerging.
This is a good point, one that’s rarely mentioned. The fact that Ballmer is retiring without a successor ready to go is a big failure.
Then he points out, that this is not a situation that most really talented and in-demand executives want to take on:
So where does Microsoft turn, and why are they taking so long? Once you put aside the Mr./Ms. Perfect fantasy, there’s no dearth of capable executives with the brains and guts to run Microsoft. These are people who already run large corporations, or are next-in-line to do so. Exec recruiters worth the pound of flesh they get for their services have e-Rolodexes full of such people — some inside the company itself.
Now, place yourself inside the heart and mind of this intelligent candidate:
‘Do I want to work with that Board? In particular, do I want Bill Gates and his pal Steve Ballmer hovering over everything I do? I know I’ll have to make unpopular decisions and upset more than a few people. What’s in it for me – and for Microsoft – in a situation where unhappy members of the old guard would be tempted to go over my head and whine to Bill and Steve? How long would I last before I get fired or, worse, neutered and lose my mind?’
Consider it a litmus test: Any candidate willing to accept this road to failure is automatically disqualified as being too weak. A worthy contender makes it clear that he or she needs an unfettered mandate with no Office Of The Second Guessing in the back of the boardroom. Bill and Steve would have to go — but the Old Duo doesn’t want to leave.
It’s a stalemate…and that’s the most likely explanation for the protracted recruitment process.
Microsoft will have no problem hiring someone as CEO. But, the question that looms is whether or not the smartest, most talented people in the world are going to take on this challenge.