Throughout 2005, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was under tremendous public pressure to counter the insurgency of Google, in terms of both business and talent. The year before Google had just established its presence in Kirkland, practically backyard of Microsoft’s Redmond campus, at the time widely seen as an extraordinarily bold attempt to thumb its nose at the biggest software empire. (Looking back today, that move seems just routine.)
Pressed in an interview published by Business Week on Sept.26, 2005, Ballmer countered forcefully:
“How are we doing in terms of talent? We’ve brought on fantastic new talent. People like Ray Ozzie, I don’t think I need to say more. Gary Flake, who has joined us in the MSN area [and] is really the technical guru and genius behind everything that had happened at Overture, a fantastic addition to our team. Li Gong who has joined our MSN team in China, who was one of the leading architects at Sun Microsystems (SUNW ). These are all people who have joined us in the last six months.”
Well, everyone has seen the report of Ozzie’s recent resignation. (and possibly his swan song memo Dawn of a new day). Not as widely reported is the quiet departure of Flake, whose Live Labs has now been folded into Bing. Myself? I left way back. For completeness, Blake Irving, who hired me to Microsoft, also left not long after and has re-emerged now as Chief Product Officer at Yahoo.
Why we all left? For all its talent pool and financial resources, Microsoft is squarely stuck in the innovator’s dilemma. (Some might say it never had that dilemma. But allow me to use the analogy here.) Despite all that got spent on MSN and Windows Live, the internal forces that go against new innovations and new businesses (and thus new threats to those incumbent senior officers) are simply too powerful. In the past 5 years, MSN’s mandate has oscillated between “be profitable now” and “take market share first”, with each change of direction resulting in massive realignment, reorganization, loss of time and opportunities, and the loss of talented people who want to succeed.
How can MSN/Live/Bing succeed? Assuming that Ballmer does not want to spin it off, then the easiest solution is to fold all of those entirely into the Windows division and make it Steve Sinofsky’s responsibility. That way, maybe all woods will be finally behind the same arrow.
Posted by: lgong