Joachim Kempin has some ideas about how Microsoft, 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 brutal, leaving hardware partners like Dell and HP reeling. They also led some to call Kempin Microsoft’s Dark Angel. And 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.
“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 and 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.
“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.