Because they’re Wall Street and they’d be free to suck every ounce of cash out of Microsoft and not have to worry about investing in the future; there won’t be a future for Microsoft without Bill Gates. Let’s find someone with some love for Microsoft to make it great again. Not just a bean counter or suit to manage its monopolies to death.
Since Gates stepped down as CEO in 2000, giving the reins to Ballmer, Microsoft has launched 16 new businesses that do $1 billion each in annual revenue, including a few growing at double-digit percentages.
Under the Gates-Ballmer regime, Microsoft continues to rake in high profit margins with its Windows and Office software businesses, which require very little capital investment. Selling software licenses doesn’t burn through cash like, say, building cars or jetliners.
The company had record revenue topping $73 billion in its last fiscal year, and has stockpiled nearly $70 billion in foreign securities, which it can quickly turn into cash.
But its share price has been on a plateau for more than a decade, because for a giant corporation that generates a mountain of free cash flow, Microsoft is viewed by many on Wall Street as being too stingy in rewarding shareholders.
Microsoft’s monopoly on the desktop has not waned one bit. It’s the desktop that has been wearing out. Otherwise, Windows and Office continue to throw off cash like they’re auditioning for a part in Richie Rich.
Granted, Bill Gates has been slowly sharing off his shares in Microsoft, according to a long term divesting plan that will see him not have anything left in the company by 2018. He is selling 80 million shares a year, has been for some time, but still remains the largest individual shareholder in the company with about 5%.
His influence on the Board is great, and he was very hands-on in making Steve Ballmer CEO and backing him along the way.
None of this is in Gates’ favor. But in his defense, he cares about the company. He isn’t as emotional about Microsoft and its products as Steve Jobs was about Apple and its offerings, that’s not his style. But, it is probably a sure bet that he loves the company he founded and he would do whatever he could see it get back to its former glory.
Bill Gates may be set on saving the world or changing the world of philanthropy, but Microsoft needs someone to care about it, and not just its business. Steve Ballmer may have cared too much and frankly, he really didn’t have the vision.
Replacing Ballmer with an executive who makes Wall Street happy is not the answer right now. Microsoft needs someone who cares about Microsoft. That’s harder than you think because, it is easy to hate on Microsoft.
However, is Google or Facebook any different to Microsoft? They are just as ruthless in competing with their foes. They are just as monopolistic in their actions. Google owns online advertising in the same way that Windows owned the OS business.
And let’s not argue that Google and Facebook are changing the world in a way that Microsoft doesn’t or hasn’t. Microsoft made the PC era possible. The company’s mission was to put a PC on every desk. It changed everything in a way that neither Google or Facebook can match because, Microsoft changed the way we work as well as play. You can’t really say that about Google which is less influential in the corporate world.
So, let’s hope someone comes along with some love for Microsoft. Not just a bean counter who dishes out the cash pile to people who really don’t deserve it.