Microsoft Should Fire Steve Ballmer, or Hire SuperNanny. Or Both.

Includes: AABA, MSFT
by: Paul Kedrosky

Is no news good news? Most people expected something on the Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)/Yahoo (YHOO) front by now, and such folks are generally reading the absence of information as bad news.

I disagree, sort of. Ordinarily absence of news in a pending deal means the two parties are still talking privately and making progress, so they don't want to queer the deal by cudgeling one another, especially if it's just on principle.

So that would usually be my take here -- that the two companies are talking and we should just say "Shhhh" and walk quietly past the room -- but I'm not convinced. The insider-ish sources I have say that while bankers are still fitfully running up some hours, on Sunday Ballmer and Yang still hadn't spoken in weeks -- and doing a deal will requires those two to get over one another. (To borrow a nice one from Kara, they need to stop their adolescent staring contest.)

Here is what I think is actually happening:

  • Passive-aggressive Yahoo is trying to say "mo' money please" without saying "mo money please" by saying nothing
  • Confused Microsoft is sensing weakness in Steve Ballmer, and division managers who whose kingdoms would be under threat post-deal are lobbying furiously to have things killed
  • Ballmer, who has handled this badly from the start -- We're going hostile! We're walking away! We love you! -- is caught between his division veeps, his desire for Yahoo, and his own increasing sense that he has no idea how to bring off this sort of deal

What should happen is this: Ballmer should re-canvass Yahoo's largest shareholders and ask what firm price in cash would get them on-board, and then offer it. No more futzing through middlemen bankers, just ask and deliver. I doubt this will happen -- Ballmer is caught up among internal politics, his own increasing impotence, and childish Yahoo intransigence -- so he is stuck and looking more and like someone who keeps threatening to ground his kids, but never does. As we have all learned from watching SuperNanny, the trouble is rarely with the kids; it's almost always the nitwit parents.

Such is the case here, so my recipe for action? Fire Ballmer. Think how quickly things would change at Microsoft, and in this deal. And then hire SuperNanny and film some Microsoft meetings. I'd watch.

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