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After bashing Ballmer, former Microsoft exec outlines turnaround plan for the company

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Joachim Kempin has some ideas about how Microsoft (s msft), his former employer, can achieve greatness again and they go beyond his already widely publicized call for the company to deep-six CEO Steve Ballmer.

Kempin, who left Microsoft in 2002, was the exec who ran the company’s cash cow OEM business. He was the guy who cut the deals with hardware makers who bundled Microsoft Windows and Office on their machines. Those negotiations were by most accounts joachim kempinbrutal, leaving hardware partners like Dell and HP reeling. They also led some to call Kempin Microsoft’s Dark AngelAnd now he’s peddling a book on Microsoft and is penning a series of blogs for ReadWrite.

Here are the some of his suggestions for Microsoft from his first post:

1: Microsoft needs a tech guru. 

Kempin writes:

“The company needs a bold and charismatic executive with bona fide technical credentials to head all of its product divisions. This dynamic leader must not only serve as the main spokesperson for all products, but he or she must also inspire and command the respect of developers. (Unfortunate Ray Ozzie did not survive in this role, and the one who came after him, Craig Mundie, was from the beginning the wrong person.)”

No kidding. This is true, and it was also true when Bill Gates started stepping back from day-to-day duties at Microsoft. Even when he dubbed Ozzie his successor as chief software architect in 2006, many wondered why he didn’t go for a younger, new-age thinker; a response to the Google guys. No one doubted Ozzie’s tech vision, but by that time Microsoft had already “missed” the internet and had to make up for lost time. Ozzie was of the same generation as Gates and Ballmer. The feeling was Microsoft really needed an infusion of new blood. Ozzie was new to Microsoft but he was rooted in the same client-server world they came from. For what it’s worth, Microsoft is bleeding many of its long-time execs with Robbie Bach, J Allard and Steven Sinofsky all exiting over the past two years.

2: Go easy on the enterprise schtick

Kempin said Microsoft’s focus on enterprise customers was lucrative but hurt the company with consumers.

“… its reputation as an innovative tech leader deteriorated in the public eye. Once cool, today Microsoft is a well-oiled money machine, but the contagious excitement around the time when Windows 95 launched is long gone …. That torch has passed to the Apples, Googles, Twitters, and Facebooks of this world.”

My take: I’m not sure anyone ever thought of Microsoft as “cool.” The big flash-bang Windows 95 event was fun; but cool? Hardly. Jay Leno hosted and even in 1995 Leno was your father’s talk show host. Even many language and compiler geeks found Borland a much more amenable culture than Microsoft.

It’s true that Microsoft has gotten too enterprise-oriented. In fact, it appears hell-bent to replicate Oracle(s orcl) and IBM(s ibm) at a time when many question the relevance of those companies in a consumer IT focused world.  Even Microsoft Surface is painted with an “Office” paintbrush. Exceptions to this rule: Xbox and Kinect — which probably doesn’t carry the Microsoft brand on purpose. The reason companies update Windows and Office is to stay legal, not because of any compelling new features. Sad but true.

3: Microsoft needs to go back to school.

Kempin writes:

“The US school system is antiquated and needs to be brought into the 21st century. This presents an opportunity for Microsoft to engage and help teachers, parents, and children to excel.”

Assuming here that excel is not a pun, he has a point. Most students use Google Docs (and most of the students I know personally are using it on MacBooks.) And when is the last time you heard a student (or anyone) request a Dell (or HP or Acer) laptop running Windows?

Kempin thinks Microsoft (with help from its big cool philanthropic friend The Gates Foundation) should just underwrite a complete re-do of technology in the nation’s schools. It would be a bold move. But Microsoft still needs to make products that people want to buy, not products that they accept because they have to.

19 Responses to “After bashing Ballmer, former Microsoft exec outlines turnaround plan for the company”

  1. Joachim is from the same era as the people he’s lambasting. I know what I would do to fix Microsoft: focus. They’re getting better at integration, but still have a ways to go. They need a visionary leader who can focus on product development and a good manager to continue operations, while pairing down the excruciatingly thick layers of middle-management. They need to spin off some divisions/products, consolidate others and ultimately decide who they want to be now that they’re all grown up.

    I have ideas, but they don’t return my calls.

  2. Like many of the MS’ers from the early days who fell into success – this idiot is living in the past…and his blasts from the peanut gallery just make him look even more pathetic than he is…

  3. There is no insight here at all, either from Kempin, or from the author.

    Most of what is suggested here is pure nonsense in business terms. When a struggling company is “re-focussed” the point is to start with what they do well, not with what they do poorly.

    To suggest that Microsoft, a company that really only does well in the business sphere and the “back rooms” of IT today, should re-focus itself on all the areas that it completely *sucks* at (consumer tech, education, etc.) is ridiculous.

    Microsoft is really quite bad at “innovation” of any kind and always has been. The facts are plain. Microsoft was never “cool.” Microsoft has *never* really been good to the consumer or to education. People used their products because they had to and because there was no other alternative, not because they enjoyed them or thought Microsoft was cool or innovative.

    “Saving” Microsoft will happen in the same way it happens in all businesses. The board will eventually fire Balmer and re-focus the company on what it does best. Business. The non-profitable sections that deviate from this core mandate will be sold off (X-Box, Kinnect, etc.), and Microsoft will again be a successful, money-making proposition.

    What it won’t be (and never has been), is “cool” or “innovative.” It will be a smaller, but still vastly profitable company serving all those back room computers and calling centres that literally can’t survive without them.

  4. Robert Welbourn

    Barb, your characterization of Ray Ozzie as being a “client-server” guy misses the mark. The company he founded prior to joining Microsoft, Groove Networks, built a collaboration product based on peer-to-peer networking. If anything, he was ahead of his time.

  5. I worked at Microsoft for over 10 years and was an international hire (H1-B), I have to tell you that I was not underpaid – infact, I was making more than my American counterparts. This whole notion that H1-B workers are getting screwed is ridiculous. There are pay grades and pay buckets at Microsoft and it applies to everyone in the company. International hires usually work harder and have a better work ethic…their foundations are also much stronger (CS degrees, etc) that would be one reason why MS and the rest of the industry prefer international/H1-B hires. It’s not the money.

    • The emphasis on H1-B visas is serving to undermine prospects for US citizens. It’s a great big hypocritical red herring: the industry lays off hordes of highly-talented and motivated US citizens and then claims those very same workers can’t be found. I’ve seen enough cases first-hand to know it’s a load of crap.

  6. It’s written in the stars. Ballmer will remain as CEO and Microsoft will continue to lose clout in the marketplace.

    I’m fine with that. It gives BlackBerry a better chance.

  7. André Rebentisch

    I recently listened to Craig Mundie’s views on spectrum and he provided valuable input to European legislators. What matters is what inspires you, regardless the source.

  8. Matt Eagar

    I’m not sure about #2. You have to be true to yourself, and I agree with you, Barb – Microsoft was never a cool consumer brand. I think most of their recent missteps have come by trying to be what they aren’t. Let Xbox shine – that’s OK, and perhaps a great place to grow – but don’t try to pretend that your Office and Windows divisions are fun consumer products.

  9. John Nemesh

    Microsoft should also take steps to ensure students today get the education needed to work at Microsoft! They constantly whine about the lack of “qualified” American software engineers and the need for H1B visas…so why don’t they DO something about it? Unless the H1B workers aren’t getting paid the same and it’s just a smokescreen to hire cheap labor…but MS would never do that, right? (sarcasm)