Filling Big Shoes

Big Big Shoes by tom@hk | 湯米tomhk, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  via Flickr 

There is a lesson in the all-around thrashing Steve Ballmer has received in recent days about filling the shoes of the greats: don’t.

Anyone who succeeds one of the greats -– be it Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Peter Lynch, Warren Buffett, Michael Jordan or Peter the Great -– is likely to suffer by comparison. As general career advice, there is more downside than upside to following a legend.

You may be as or even more skilled than the superstar you’re following, but they also likely had both good luck and timing on their side. The tailwinds that favored them probably won’t keep blowing for you. Nothing lasts forever. The rules change. The great bull market eventually comes to an end. Low draft picks erode your bench. The competitors keep coming and coming, and unlike you, they often have nothing to lose. The window for breakthrough innovation in your industry may not stay open 24×7. Cambrian explosions can be followed by long periods of unpunctuated equilibrium. No small part of becoming a legend is successfully getting out on top (cf. Michael Dell).

And your predecessor’s success increases degree of difficulty you face. It sets expectations for your performance, yet there are real diseconomies associated with success. You get to defend the substantial realm your predecessor built. That scale and scope of success brings complexity. You inherit a valuation that presumes your future trajectory; you really only can screw it up. Sheer size means you move markets. Opposing teams always get up for the game when the defending champions come to town, even if there have been roster changes. The key lieutenants who had the legend’s back may decide it is time to enjoy their rewards. You’re an easy target for populists, contrarians and anyone who wants to stick it to ‘the man’. The press, who first build you up, inevitably get bored and will decide it is time to tear you down. A government or two may shake you down for campaign contributions, directly or indirectly.

A big part of Steve’s problem is he isn’t Bill. He’s had to manage the house that Bill built in the face of unprecedented government assault, the complete collapse (and rebirth) of the tech sector and try to keep up with, much less stay ahead of the incessant march of technology. Steve is a amazingly successful and accomplished guy, contrary to what you may conclude from the twenty-something blogger consensus this week. It isn’t clear anyone, including Bill, could manage the sprawling empire that is Microsoft today or have maintained Microsoft’s dominance in the serendipitous world of technology up to the present day. I wish Steve’s last move had been to break the company up (and frankly, there is still time for that). It would be better for the company and for his legacy.

But it isn’t just Steve who has this problem. Tim Cook is experiencing all the joys of not being Steve Jobs. Ballmer’s buddy Jeff Immelt soldiers on at GE, having started at a similarly awkward time of high valuations (GE has dropped a couple hundred billion in market cap on his watch). Peter Lynch’s Fidelity Magellan Fund, where at least the first couple managers to follow Lynch made headlines, is largely forgotten today. And I won’t invest any money with whoever eventually takes the reins from Warren Buffett (whose own best performance came when he was investing much much smaller amounts). Pete Myers, of course, had a career year and lead the Bulls to a 55 win season after MJ retired (the first time), but the Bulls didn’t win another championship. Peter the Great continues to cast a long shadow unbroken by any Russian leader in the ensuing centuries (except maybe Stalin, but he was more from the Ivan the Terrible school).

Mean reversion is a bitch, and mean reversion from an extreme outlier can be even more painful. Put another way: bet against the guy who comes after the legend.

Note: I leave Larry Ellison off this list of examples. Due to the fact he intends to live forever, he will spare any successor the ordeal of following him.

A Handicapper’s Guide

 
With the announcement that SteveB will depart within the year, there is all kinds of speculation about his successor, much of it ranging between vapid and nutty. There are three classes of candidate:

Internal Candidates

While people are having fun going through every headshot of the Senior Leadership Team as a possible CEO candidate, there really is only one internal candidate. This candidate would be a strong vote for continuity. The next CEO of Microsoft will be in Redmond and won’t be a connoisseur of corndogs.

External Candidates

Microsoft is historically very tough on executives hired from outside and succeeding Steve would be exceptionally challenging. Given Microsoft could have almost anyone, there are not a lot of obvious candidates here. Would love to hear suggestions as I am sure there are some out-of-the-box candidates I have not considered. Gray-faced/gray suited enterprise executives seem unlikely, and especially not anyone who ever worked at HP or IBM (internships should not be disqualifiers).

Alumni Candidates

This is the most interesting category (at least for us alumni ;-). There are a number of names that have been tossed around: KJ, Elop, Sinofsky, Muglia, Gundotra, Maritz. I have a tough time imagining any of them as the next CEO of Microsoft except for Paul. The question is what would it take to get him to do it. And Bill definitely isn’t coming back. It is hard to think of a founder of his stature who has done as good a job of extricating himself from his company as he has.

A few other other thoughts:

  • The most interesting question to me is whether this decision happened over months or weeks. You can infer very different catalysts depending on the timeframe.
  • It is now basically acknowledged there has been no succession plan.
  • The recent reorg, which is batshit crazy, looks even more crazy with Steve out of the picture. Still waiting for someone inside the company to sell, defend or rationalize this move to me.
  • I am still a staunch believer that the best option for the company is to break itself up. With expectations set on a single successor and a year to find that successor, this doesn’t bode well for a breakup. The board in theory could come back with this conclusion before Steve departs after a few disappointing interviews/rejections. But Steve clearly is not an advocate of this approach.
  • With Steve’s fate settled, I expect more eyes turn to John Chambers. Steve became CEO at the top of the dot com market peak in 2000 and subsequently was at the helm as the company lost hundreds of billions in market cap. At the time, he’d lost more market cap than any CEO in history, which was definitely not a badge he wore with pride. After Cisco went on to lose even more market cap, Steve was known to bellow “Thank god for John Chambers”.

Forget Summers and Yellen: Let a Bot Run the Federal Reserve

1956 - ”Forbidden Planet” - Robbie! by x-ray delta one, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  via  Flickr 

 
The shameless campaigning and cat fight over who should be our next Federal Reserve Chair has only served to underscore the inevitable human flaws and lack of omniscience of whoever is ultimately appointed, all while further politicizing and debasing the office. I argued four years ago a bot could do that job and feel obligated to make the case again. Other than changing the date, this still makes perfect sense:

Software Bot To Be Nominated Chairman of 
Federal Reserve System

Cutting edge technology tapped to bring stability and
consistency to monetary policy

WASHINGTON D.C. – August 25, 2009 — President Barack Obama today announced he intends to nominate Monet 3.0, a software bot, to become Chairman and a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. As Chairman, Monet will be charged with conducting the nation’s monetary policy by influencing money and credit conditions in the economy.

“Software bots today are successfully outperforming the world’s best human practitioners in complex endeavors like chess, and they do so without irrationality or exuberance,” said President Obama. “Despite the bot’s French-sounding name, I am confident that Monet 3.0’s discipline and transparency will bring price stability and foster the economic growth required for a full economic recovery.”

Monet was born in a lab at Stanford University in the early 1990s and is currently in version 3.0.  The software instantiates a modified version of the Taylor Rule.  Source code for Monet is available for broad inspection and reuse under the modified BSD license at http://bot.federalreserve.gov.

Monet’s nomination requires approval by the Senate and a bout of hyperinflation that makes the Hungarian episode of 1946 look modest.

I could update the proposal with a dash of Big Data and or integrate with the Bitcoin blockchain (we’ll leave pioneering on that front to Iceland), but I think the original idea still suffices. It is easy to make contemporary arguments for our bot (e.g. even a “headless” bot will be more user friendly than Larry Summers). All the bird-watching speculation about hawks and doves becomes irrelevant, as our bot will mindlessly execute a direct link between objectives and policy. And in these times of government fiscal constraint, beyond electricity and the occasional motherboard upgrade, moving to a bot will be cheaper than a new human occupant.

Making a bot the Fed chair will also help the broader Federal Reserve Board of Governors increase their understanding of important economic dynamics. Members of the Federal Reserve have not always demonstrated the greatest empathy for the consequences of their policy. Seeing a robot take a colleagues’ job firsthand should give them a deeper appreciation for the situation of the American worker.

Plus, the all-knowing NSA is already moving down this path to cut fickle and fallible humans out of the loop and the Federal Reserve, perhaps the only other government entity with comparable reach and influence, would not want to fall behind in the Race Against the Machine (a topic I will get to one of these days).

I will keep posting this every four years until a bot takes its rightful place as Chair of the Federal Reserve.

Now Every Company Really Is A…

My stump speech seven or eight years ago included two assertions: 1.) every company is now a media company and 2.) every company is now a software company. Someone recently reminded me of that pitch and while it seems obvious today, it was definitely before its time. The globe-spanning organizational behemoths I was then hectoring weren’t buying it (but unlike with mainframe customers, I don’t think anyone ever called me “son” in the course of the conversation).

The media company prediction came out of the path we were taking with Microsoft’s developer platform business. That business at Microsoft, despite Steve Ballmer’s infamous and sweaty “Developers, Developers, Developers!!!” performances (and you should see him order lunch: “Pastrami, Pastrami, Pastrami!!!” with all credit to Bruce Ryan for not only coming up with that line, but shouting it out while Steve was in the sandwich line), was strategically important but a sideline by any quantitative metric. The developer audience had an endless thirst for content but was also very suspicious of anything that reeked of marketing. Intermediaries, particularly the press, had a tendency to water things down and didn’t always fully comprehend the topic at hand. So we started to reach out directly to the developer audience and sidestep the traditional gatekeepers.

Those were the early days of corporate blogging. We had a sign in the office showing “Days Since Last Blogging Accident” (I’m looking at you Scoble ;-) and spent too much time fighting off a prominent executive who wanted to ban blogging across the company (ironically, he went on to probably blog more sheer word volume than any other blogger ever). The genesis of Channel 9 also happened in this time, which provided an authentic and humanizing behind the scenes look at the Microsoft developer platform (it was also as much a rejection of MSDN, a CD-ROM library of developer tools that had clumsily migrated to the web, as anything else). Channel 9 also quickly metastasized into a vibrant community around that content channel. The end result is we found ourselves using cheap digital technology to program (in the TV sense) directly to our audience.

It seemed obvious at the time that everyone would be doing this soon. And this was before the rise of social media, the christening of content marketing or the fixation on the CMO as the new Great White Whale of IT, all of which have fueled the ability for anyone to be their own media business. Meanwhile, the traditional media continue to face gale force headwinds (e.g. the New York Times recently paying to get rid of the Boston Globe, which they paid over a billion dollars for not so long ago). Dan “Fake Steve Jobs” Lyons chronicles the ranks of traditional journalists taking to the lifeboats to join the corporate media ranks, a path he too has taken. There is some irony that being in the media business is increasingly attractive to everyone except those actually in the media business. Even the old line about not getting into a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel has far less applicability when printing presses are ridiculously cheap (and the guys who buy ink have to budget for bankruptcy lawyers).

In terms of every company becoming a software company, Marc Andreessen nailed this with his Wall Street Journal essay “Why Software is Eating the World”. Software no longer just replaces older generations of software, but everywhere you look software is chewing up and spitting out enormous traditional industries. Skype finished off the long distance business. iOS and Android broke the operator chokehold on the mobile experience (“hello Mr. dumb pipe!!!”). Netflix destroyed the DVD rental business (remember Blockbuster?) and is now driving the DVD itself to extinction as a medium. Uber has pushed the taxi business to lawyer up in the absent of any other strategies for coping with change. Barnes & Noble is a case study in understanding the software threat but then mismanaging its play to the point of threatening the viability of their still profitable bookstore business. AirBnB is not appreciated by hoteliers for opening lots of vacancies. The hottest thing in cars is software that powers the entertainment system. connects with your smartphone, manages the hybrid powertrain and is poised to resurrect the slogan “leave the driving to us”. The energy revolution that has pulled the rug out from under OPEC, Vladimir Putin and predictions of peak oil owes much to advances in data analysis and visualization software. And we’ve recently learned that even the world’s second oldest profession — spying — appears to have become a vast software play.

At a time when the assumption is you outsource everything you can outside your core business, both media and software development are being in-sourced with a vengeance. You just can’t live without them.

Open Season: A Short Industrial Drama

Cloud Foundry had a pretty good week with endorsements from Baidu and IBM. Both relationships were developed after I left VMware so what follows is purely speculation on my part. But some companies have a tough time getting over their history and playbooks, so it is easy to imagine how things went down.

Warning: this post contains serious “inside baseball” about the past and present of software standardization and open source mechanics. If you don’t know what ECMA oxymoronically used to mean or haven’t debated the merits of different open source licenses, you may want to stop reading right now (go see Pacific Rim or read up on Bitcoin instead). I may be the only person who gets some of these jokes. Apologies to David Mamet.

OPEN SEASON

Scene: a hipster office in SOMA populated by dogs, twenty-something Siamese programmers and two older gentlemen trying with limited success to project a casual air.

Characters:
Jim – a Pivotal executive
Dan – an IBM executive
Angel – an IBM standards executive

Dan: We’re from the IBM company and today is your lucky day. We have decided Cloud Foundry is going to be the platform-as-a-service for the cloud.

Jim: Oh…

Angel: It’s still early days for the cloud.

Dan: The way this will work is IBM will make Cloud Foundry open and therefore viable for the enterprise. We know how to do this and will tell you what you have to do.

Jim: I’m not sure I follow as our strategy has been to make Cloud Foundry as open as possible from day one. Am I missing something?

Dan: Cloud Foundry cannot be used in the enterprise until IBM gives it our blessing. It is critical that enterprises only use open technologies.

Jim: Open like the mainframe?

Dan: Watch your tone son. We’re from IBM and we make sure that enterprises are not locked into proprietary technologies.

Jim: I’m definitely not following you. What do you mean by “open”?

Dan: Openness depends on having a comprehensive governance strategy. We will work with you to create a Cloud Foundry Foundation to manage the governance of Cloud Foundry.

Jim: What exactly would such a Foundation do? And isn’t “Cloud Foundry Foundation” kind of awkward phrasing? Did you consider just Foundration? That domain might still be available.

Dan: The Cloud Foundry Foundation will handle the governance of Cloud Foundry. With a formal governance process as defined in bylaws, Cloud Foundry will then be open so enterprise customers can embrace it.

Jim: Hmm.. I assume you’d describe GE as an enterprise customer. They’ve embraced Cloud Foundry to the tune of investing $105 million. And they’ve never mentioned the word governance as far as I can recall. They have been known to throw around terms like productivity and time-to-market.

Dan: Let me help you understand how this will work. Do you remember Java and Linux? IBM made those technologies successful in the enterprise by ensuring they were open. We will do the same thing for Cloud Foundry. But you will need to follow our direction.

Jim: You’ll have to excuse me as I was in junior high school when you were running that playbook for Java and Linux. But I’m still not certain what this has to do with Cloud Foundry.

Dan: Enterprise customers expect new technologies have formal governance processes so they can trust them to be open. For example, it is critical there be explicit rules to specify the voting rights for different classes of membership and how to deal with conflicts of interest on the board of directors.

Jim: I am afraid I still don’t understand what this has to do with making it easier for customers to build applications for the cloud. I defer to your knowledge of the previous century as well as conflicts of interest, but it seems customers today are more focused on functioning code that solves their business problems than governance processes. But you should explain to me what governance you think is necessary.

Dan: The Cloud Foundry Foundation will be a legal entity with a steering committee which will define all the subcommittees necessary for different aspects of Cloud Foundry. Obviously, we will use Robert’s Rules of Order.

Jim: Is this how you created the Java programming model?

Dan: Exactly.

Jim: You do know the majority of enterprise Java development is done today with the Spring Framework which was developed to shelter developers from the horrors of committee-developed technologies like EJB?

Dan: Son, enterprises can’t build enterprise solutions without enterprise technologies like EJB. When you start doing transactions, it is no longer child’s play. You may have your simple solutions for simple problems, but IBM solves enterprise problems.

Jim: I won’t ask how it is that the biggest Internet companies on the planet somehow manage to do transactions at vastly greater scale than any enterprise that uses IBM technology. I guess I should also be surprised the cloud has gotten as far as it has without any committees and Robert’s Rules of Order.

Angel: It’s still early days for the cloud.

Jim: Your faith in committees is touching, but pretty much for every broadly successful technology in the world today, there was a committee-driven alternative that failed. Take IP vs. OSI, or HTML succeeding only by throwing away the vast standardized bulk of SGML. I think the world has learned from these experiences. We have seen over and over that committees are prone to making bad political tradeoffs, delivering least common denominator solutions and losing sight of the real problem at hand. Premature standardization is a killer; you need to allow for experimentation, evolution and finding the proverbial product-market fit.

Dan: Son, you need to understand how things work in the enterprise.

Jim: Is there more to IBM’s cloud strategy than a vague appeal for standards? Do you really think a bunch of random committees are going to keep up with Amazon Web Services? I guess it could be a good strategy if they’re laughing so hard they can’t get any work done.

Angel: It’s still early days for the cloud.

Dan: Let me give you a recent example. Have you heard of OpenStack? IBM is making OpenStack part of the open enterprise cloud.

Jim: I am familiar with OpenStack as it turns out. In fact, Cloud Foundry runs on OpenStack. I do seem to recall you guys jumped on the OpenStack bandwagon a couple years after it got started. Are you saying IBM is somehow responsible for OpenStack’s momentum?

Dan: IBM is making OpenStack open and acceptable for enterprises.

Jim: So what contributions have you made to OpenStack?

Angel: We have dozens of our best standards people working on OpenStack.

Jim: I was thinking more in terms of code. NASA and Rackspace have contributed major pieces of technology – what has IBM brought to OpenStack?

Angel: It’s still early days for the cloud.

Jim: Well, even if software development is not your focus, you do operate a lot of outsourced IT infrastructure. With IBM’s enterprise presence you must have a lot of customers running OpenStack today. How many megawatts of OpenStack capacity are you operating?

Angel: It’s still early days for the cloud.

Jim: I’m not sure where you guys have been for the last decade, but the world has changed. We now achieve openness at the engineering level, not with lawyers writing bylaws and Robert’s Rules of Order. The days of heavyweight governance via committees staffed by people whose primary skill is sleeping while sitting up have probably come and gone. Cloud Foundry is extremely open today by any practical measure. The code is all on GitHub under the very permissive Apache license. Is there something we’re missing?

Angel: What is this Geet Hub? Can you spell that for me?

Jim: GitHub is a public code repository. Anyone can submit a pull request and contribute code to the project. If you don’t like the vision or want to do something different that is more tailored to your specific needs, you can always fork the project and take it in whatever direction you want.

Dan: (visibly flinching and frothing) Are you mad? Anyone can just contribute code? To a product that will be used by enterprises?

Dan: You encourage people to fragment the project by modifying it and making derivative works? (pause)  Do you not know any history boy? We spent years trying to minimize Java fragmentation. Microsoft would taunt us that even Ivory soap was only 99 and 44/100th pure. Despite Herculean efforts, we never quite achieved it, but we tell ourselves, much like with the current economic recovery, it could have been so much worse. You would let anyone do whatever they want with the software? (aghast)

Dan: How will enterprises ensure they’re getting the official version of Cloud Foundry? Do you not see how critical it is to have a Foundation that controls Cloud Foundry?

Jim: The market decides what the best version of Cloud Foundry is, not some committee. If you don’t like the direction, you could always fork and go in whatever direction you think is most appropriate. One would think with 400,000 or so employees, IBM would have some people who could write code as opposed to committee minutes.

Dan: Surely you jest. We can’t rely on the market to make decisions for the enterprise. That is IBM’s role and has been since the dawn of information technology. If you don’t fully appreciate the criticality of governance, we can go elsewhere. We have options. We could bless OpenShit, sorry I mean OpenShift instead. I bet Red Hat would play ball. We’re old friends with their standards guys.

Jim: Good luck with that.

Dan: Or we could bring the full might of IBM’s research labs to bear and build our own platform-as-a-service. Don’t underestimate the technological prowess of the IBM company. We get more patents every year than any other company. We can write the letters IBM at the atomic level. We are going to positively own the burgeoning robotic game show contestant market. We can make WebSphere the application platform for the cloud. WebSphere is the biggest middleware on the planet, though I’m not sure why the development team was laughing when they said that. If you don’t hand over Cloud Foundry to the Cloud Foundry Foundation, we’ll just compete with you.

Jim: You’d think with all those great patents, you’d have more innovation to show in your product line and wouldn’t be here trying to figure out how to co-opt the fruits of someone else’s R&D. I get that what’s yours is yours, like the mainframe, but you’d also like what other people have developed to be under your control. You’re welcome to participate in the Cloud Foundry ecosystem on the same level playing field as everyone else, but we’re not going to distract ourselves from building a great platform with some giant bureaucratic foundation. If you want to compete, by all means compete, but at some point you’re going to have to write some code people actually want to use. Maybe you can create an IDE that lets people write code at the atomic level. And with all due respect, WebSphere at this point is just a middleware museum. It is about as relevant to the cloud as the mainframe.

Dan (quietly to Angel): They’re onto us. Our strategy of blessing different piece parts defined by multiple slow-moving and conflicted committees that don’t work together well and need busloads of consultants to make them limp along may not fly in the cloud. This may be a problem for our earnings roadmap. Our CFO told Wall Street we’d have $7 billion in cloud revenues by 2015 and SmartCloud unfortunately isn’t looking that smart.

Angel: It’s still early days for the cloud.

Jim: I’ll tell you what. I’d hate for you to have to go back to Armonk and get yelled at by your CEO again for not working hard enough and not bothering to return customer calls. We’re doing a Cloud Foundry developer conference this fall and how about IBM sponsor breakfast there or something? You can buy some healthy fare and we can explain how in the past you would have brought donuts, but you’ve gotten religion about reducing middleware girth. You can even come to the advisory board meeting. And of course you can submit all the code you want to the project, but I realize that may not be your thing. But I do have one request if we’re going to work together: please don’t ever use that the word governance again in my presence.

Angel: It’s still early days for the cloud.

Jim: Yes, it’s still early days for the cloud…at IBM.

FINIS

Note: the voices in my head for this are the default Xtranormal voices. In the sequel, the Bernank will make an appearance.

Dino Watch: IBM’s Q2 Results

 Dinosaur World by mcdlttx, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  Image via Flickr 

Our favorite “technology” company IBM “beat” the number last week and saw its stock pop on Thursday after announcing earnings. Bloomberg cheered the results:

“IBM Raises Annual Forecast After Earnings Top Analyst Estimates”

International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), the largest computer-services company, topped estimates with its second-quarter earnings and raised its forecast for the year after cutting costs and buying back shares.

Excluding a $1 billion restructuring expense, earnings were $3.91 a share, the Armonk, New York-based company said today in a statement. That beat the $3.78 that analysts projected on average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The company now expects to earn at least $16.90 a share this year, up from the $16.70 it forecast earlier this year.

IBM has managed to increase profit by shifting away from low-margin businesses, cutting jobs and repurchasing stock — even as revenue slows.

And why not be ebullient? Just look at these results:

  • Revenue – down 3%
  • Net Profit – down 17%
  • EPS – down 13% (with buybacks, outstanding shares are down 4% over the last year)
    • Software – up 4%
  • Services – down 1%
  • Systems and Technology (aka Hardware) – down 12%

Investors and analysts seem to have bought into IBM’s narrative to pay no attention to the the top line and focus only on ever increasing profit forecasts, never mind whether they come from financial engineering or engineering engineering. They’re constantly “transforming” the company and getting rid of unprofitable businesses so even as revenues go down, profits will only go up, up, up (at some point, I will do a projection of where to expect the intersection between ever declining revenue and ever increasing profits). A couple financial notes on this quarter:

  • IBM is masterful in obfuscating their results and particularly forward guidance, as they guide to non-GAAP results as “most indicative of operational trajectory”. They sow a lot of confusion with a billion dollar write-off to lay off upwards of 8,000 employees (because companies that are killing it are always doing restructurings of this magnitude…). All this noise turns out to have obscured the fact they actually dropped their sacred future profit forecasts. It took the markets 24 hours to figure this out and IBM’s stock price gave up its initial pop from earnings.
  • Without a material drop in their effective tax rate, the results this quarter and last quarter would have been much worse. Pre-tax income was down 20%.
  • IBM’s all-important profit forecast previously included an assumption of a major divestiture, presumably the x86 server business, which they have walked back: “a substantial second-half gain that it was expecting in its prior view of earnings per share will not likely be achieved the end of 2013.”  Eventually, the cookie jar of one-time profit bumps will be empty as you can only sell off so many of the businesses your describe as crummy.
  • It looks like profits are starting to correlate with revenue after a long period of non-correlation (aka the financial engineering years). In the charts below, we see IBM’s revenue looks highly cyclical with the economical downturn in 2008-9 but the recent decline is harder to pin on macroeconomics. Perhaps we are at a technology inflection point? And the once monotonic five year profit trend looks like it is rolling over. We also should credit Sam Palmasaino for having exquisite timing and/or skill, leaving the CEO job at the end of 2012.

IBM Net Income TTM Chart

IBM Net Income TTM data by YCharts

IBM Revenue TTM Chart

IBM Revenue TTM data by YCharts

Meaningless Numbers

I love the plum double-digit growth numbers IBM cites for arbitrary slices of their business with no baselines so you have no idea if they contribute $1 or $1 billion. Somehow, they have an incredible growth portfolio that doesn’t move the needle for the company as a whole:

  • “Key branded middleware” up 9% – presumably this is things like WebSphere, DB2, Lotus and Tivoli, all brands that are irrelevant in the cloud era. But the “key” modifier implies some other segmentation game is being played.
  • “Growth markets revenue flat” – that single line pretty much sums up IBM.
  • “Smarter Planet revenue up more than 25% in the first half” – leaving aside any effort to figure out what might constitute Smarter Planet revenue, one might conclude the rest of IBM’s revenue comes from a Dumber Planet™. But as IBM’s revenue continues to decline, there is evidence the Dumber Planet is wising up ;-) 
  • “Cloud revenue up more than 70% in the first half” – given IBM’s paucity of cloud customer references, this may be the most nebulous of the bunch. IBM has said they’ll do $7 billion in cloud revenue by 2015, but their definition of cloud is of course cloudy. The cloud number I’d really like to see from IBM is their capex spend as a proxy for their cloud commitment. Total property, plant and equipment on the balance sheet has actually declined so far this year, while Google and Microsoft spent $3.5 billion on capex between them in the last quarter.

The problem for dinosaurs: if the meteor doesn’t get you, the (dust) cloud will.

Image: IBM Sales Team, Yucatan Penisula, 66 million years ago

Enter The Matrix: Microsoft’s Reorg

image

The new super-matrixed structure doubles down on “integrated innovation”, a model that has historically been tantalizingly just out of grasp from an execution standpoint. The new theory is shorter product cycles will mitigate failures of alignment across teams.

The pendulum swings to functional away from divisions that had clear customer focus and segmentation (ironically, Steven Sinofsky wins philosophically, even as he and most of his disciples lose personally).

The Microsoft org chart cartoon with guns pointed between organizations is getting a lot of airplay. It is worth pointing out it has always been the engineering organizations that had this kind of dynamic (sometimes even implicitly instigated by senior management – there was a a time when internal competition was in many ways more vigorous than external competition) and that there still are multiple engineering organizations. Windows and Office, for example, will always have different priorities, no matter what the organization.

This move elevates some of the strongest engineering managers in the company, but they will have to successfully step up to operate at a whole new level.

The marketing reorg will probably take a long time to sort out, with both new leadership and lots of people moving, which means Microsoft will likely be more internally focused than it should for 6-12 months.

I continue to believe the best, long-term strategy for the company is to proactively split itself up. This reorg of course makes that harder as everything gets mashed into one gigantic blob that will try to successfully span from your house to the warehouse, from the mom and pop shop to the Fortune 500’s top and from the wrist of your arm to the cloud server farm (Rap Genius here I come…).

One of the reasons I believe in splitting the company up is the succession issue. For the all the criticism SteveB gets (some very valid, some completely ridiculous), his are a very difficult set of shoes to fill. I can’t count the number of times I have asked people calling for Ballmer’s head who they would replace him with, only to hear crickets or worse, truly untenable alternatives offered up. This reorg doesn’t bring to light any internal potential candidates and with the elimination of the division presidents, also removes the “mini-CEO” presidential training grounds. Steve is still planning to run the company for a few more years (he has said many times he intends to stay until his youngest child goes to college and has been known to bellow “…and if the kid has to repeat a year, you get me for another year!”), so perhaps there is time to develop an internal candidate. But my guess is the next long-term CEO of Microsoft is not at the company today.

Meanwhile, some of the better posts on the reorg I have seen:

  • Hal Berenson dives deep into internal succession candidates.
  • Ben Thompson on the perils of functional organization in large companies, with the obligatory Apple comparison.
  • Xconomy doesn’t quite go line-by-line, but dissects some of the blather in Microsoft’s memo on the reorg (thereby saving me from having to do something similar). This memo is not an auspicious start for the new marketing leadership (though I suspect the writing team is not new).