It has been easy over the past few years to find things to criticize Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer about. The loud and somewhat larger than life executive seems to have gone out of his way to give his critics things to complain about.
For the most part, I am proud to say that I have tried to stay above the fray and take a different look at his leadership.
I spoke about his guts a couple of years ago in an article called "My full throated defense of Steve Ballmer"
In that article, I said (of Ballmer):
He once said that Windows 8 is the riskiest product bet that Microsoft is developing and I have to say, I didn't understand it then but I do now.
He was right.
All the chips are on the table but no matter how this turns out, I have to salute the CEO who had the balls to put the chips there in the first place.
Others have said that Mr. Ballmer was never the right man for the job but I have tried to be a little more circumspect.
I thought that Mr. Ballmer was making strong and decisive bets on the future of the company and had a successor in mind to hand the keys to after a successful Windows 8 launch.
Well the "successor" is gone and this weekend, I believe that we were all given a clear sign that Microsoft desperately needs new management.
Let's take a step back for a second.
The primary challenge for any business is usually finding an audience to buy its goods and/or services. This challenge is (sometimes) overcome by doing a combination of these three things:
- Creating a valuable, quality product.
- Having a good sales team.
- Having a good marketing team.
Usually, one or more of those options works but even when they don't, it is understood that those are the normal challenges associated with running a business.
On the other hand, when a company has an audience that really DOES want to buy a good or service, failing to adequately meet that demand is unacceptable.
That is exactly what happened this weekend with the nationwide rollout of the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet.
There was public excitement and anticipation in the lead up to the launch of the Surface Pro tablet. This was the counterpart to Microsoft's earlier Surface RT tablets which were widely seen as just media consumption devices.
The Surface Pro on the other hand was meant to offer consumers the ability to use enterprise strength applications as well as casual applications on a beautifully made tablet.
All designed and supported by Microsoft.
Consumers waited with bated breath for the launch this past weekend.
Then things went wrong.
On launch day (Saturday the 9th of February), within the first few hours, the Microsoft online store reported that the 128GB device was sold out. A few hours later, it indicated that both available models (64GB and 128GB) were sold out.
Then a few hours later, the 64GB model was available again.
Now, most people would scratch their heads and ask "what's wrong with products being sold out? Isn't that a good thing?".
In this case, that wasn't an accurate picture of what was going on.
In my case, I was unable to find a Best Buy, Walmart or Staples store that had the device in yet.
To be clear, the devices were not sold out, they hadn't arrived!
All over the United States, there were consumers complaining about being unable to purchase the Microsoft Surface Pro simply because they couldn't find it - either online or in a store near them.
That missed opportunity is unacceptable at this level of competition.
Here's the bottom line:
The Microsoft Surface Pro launch was a simple task that a company as old and mature as Microsoft should have executed easily. Instead, it went out of its way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Naturally, it begs the question, if the company can't execute the simple things properly, how can we expect it to do the big and difficult things that lie ahead?
Ultimately, it comes down to leadership.
The CEO is accountable and based on the debacle this weekend, it's pretty clear that Steve Ballmer has to go.
As long as Steve Ballmer is the CEO of Microsoft, I recommend that people hold off on purchasing MSFT stock.
I believe it will take new leadership to make this company worth investing in any time soon.
Additional disclosure: While I have no business relationship with Microsoft of any sort, I am the owner and editor of several Windows websites (Windows8update.com, Windows8enterprise.com among others) and I write primarily about Microsoft for a living.