Sunday, August 25, 2013

Steve Balmer, Steve Case and Tim Cook - the varying fortunes of Tech CEOs.

Saturday's WSJ had an homage of sorts to Steve Ballmer who announced last week that he would retire (young) as CEO of Microsoft.  I've written frequently about this inflated ego but as they say on ESPN let's go to the video tape.  The Journal, succinctly and elegantly summed up his 13 year tenure.   The chart at the right (red is 2000/yellow 2013) compares the valuations of seven tech giants during the period that Mr. Ballmer was CEO of Microsoft.  He took a $600 billion company and made it into a $290 billion company.  More importantly he let the company's most important franchise struggle while missing the boat on a wide range of other products in the tech space.  In the article (which was another demonstration of the WSJ mastery of this new age of journalism) they presented the financial data but they also presented a timeline - which looks a lot like a continuous set of missed opportunities - he did not scratch the Surface nor did he have an Zune of an idea.  (Puns intended)   He often looked during his tenure as a petulant child; he whined,derided,and chided his opponents while failing to guide his company.

But there is another story in the chart.  Notice that at the beginning of the period AOL was a $100 billion company and now is less that $3 billion.  At the turn of the century a lot of people talked about the innovative genius of Steve Case (the AOL CEO who pulled of one of the most significant disasters of modern corporate history - the merger of Time Warner and AOL).     What also caught my eye was the valuation of Apple.  In the middle of September Apple will launch the new iteration of the iPhone (the one Ballmer said would not sell).   In the last year or so, Apple has ceded market share of both the smart phone and tablet market.  That may have been inevitable.  (They still sell a hell of a lot of units in a much larger market for both products.)   Critics have argued that Apple without Jobs is not Apple.

I am one of those Apple fans that is waiting to see what they will unveil for the rest of the year.   A cheaper iPhone; new versions of the iPad(s), an iWatch, an iTV - or as Monty Python frequently said - something completely different.   Under Ballmer's leadership the arrogance of Bill Gates turned sorry - a malignant manifestation of the gang that could not shoot straight.   From my view Tim Cook, the current CEO of Apple has a lot more going for him than Ballmer ever did.   But beginning on September 10, we will see whether the press lives up to the reality.   In Ballmer's time, it never did.

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