Changing of the Guard: Microsoft Without Bill

Would You Have Invested?  A lot of people who would not have given Microsoft money in 1978 still have strong opinions about what is right for Microsoft- and for Bill Gates. 

Gates’ impending departure from the day to day operations at Microsoft has been getting a lot of attention.  It is rare that a succession plan receives this much scrutiny.  But then not many of them concern companies with the sale of Microsoft.  Gates is the villain or the hero of personal computer technology and the enabling technologies that followed, depending on your point of view. 

Is Bill Gates the king of an evil, secretive empire that guarded its secrets with single minded greed?  Or is he a bright mentally focused geek who found a niche and exploited it, taking the arrows for being first to market and figuring things out as he goes along?  Why not both?

We all make decisions early that guide and shape our later professional life.  Some set us on a path that we cannot see down very far.  Gates may be all the terrible things that are said of him as the market target for anger and frustration with Windows.  But as we point a finger of blame, it is instructive to ask ourselves “Could I really do it any better?”

Sustainable systems of organization and business process resilient and powerful enough to govern something as complex as Microsoft are rare indeed.  Every customer has a different point of view, multiple technical standards (and functions with little or no standards), multiple languages and varying regulatory standards.  Add to all that external challenge the very real issues of governing an enterprise of that size and we have the perfect storm for dysfunction.

Yet, I have to admire Gates for his decision now.  A lot like the piece I wrote on Tiger Woods this week, everyone has an opinion.  Gates is 52 and wealthy beyond imagination.  He has already begun the process of using his resource to make a difference in the world with multi-million dollar grants.  Unlike many who have accomplished on a grand scale, Gates seems willing now to allow others the opportunity to prove what they can do. 

Part of me wants to write a story about how easy it is when you are rich.  I could also start a rant about leaving when the going gets tough and the fact that his decisions are largely at the root of the challenges his company faces today.  But Bill, like Tiger, faces those challenges because of who he is- not who we are.   He took an idea and turned it into a $60 billion global enterprise.  Most of us have not done anythig of the sort.  Heck, most of us whould not even have invested.