Steve Ballmer: The Salesman


Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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21 Responses

  1. Avatar Kim says:

    Quite true. Nothing like Quickster in his resume.
    Expanding windows to gaming platforms is a really smart business move.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Microsoft’s successes (Xbox aside) are based on its dominance in the PC market. To the extent that Ballmer didn’t make significant headways in what’s replacing PCs (tablets, phones, and mobile devices in general), or make Windows a plausible entrant in the server space, he failed.Report

    • Most CEOs fail to find a new way for their companies to make money within any given 13-year period.

      Maybe the the demands that he should have are fair. He certainly was well compensated enough.

      At the same time, I don’t think it should be all that surprising that he failed to add another huge cash-generating business to the Microsoft portfolio.
      To no one in particular:
      What do you think is the likelihood that Google will create a new business within the next 13 years from now that makes up at least a third of their revenues? How about for Apple? Facebook?Report

  3. Avatar ScarletNumber says:

    What’s a 911?Report

  4. Avatar krogerfoot says:

    One thing I can say with total confidence: He did a better job than I woulda done. If anyone out there is pondering giving me control over one of the most profitable and powerful companies in history, let me save you a little heartache—don’t. I’ll probably just screw the whole thing up.

    With slightly less confidence, I’d say that my first comment there would be true for most commentators. It’s all too easy to point and laugh at Steve Ballmer, which is part of why I have found it so enjoyable to point and laugh (in other news, I do not welcome challenges). But an awful lot of the mockery is about the superficial stuff, which you rightly describe as basic, and good, salesmanship. So, thanks for this article.Report

  5. Avatar Morat20 says:

    It’s nice hearing microsoft’s version of the vitality system leaking out. I mean, half of everybody suffers under that perverse GE nightmare, but MS is one of the few that took it to it’s ultimate, back-stabbing, foot-shooting conclusion.

    Imagine you are a MS manager. You have, under you, a team of competitive folks who work ridiculous hours under a lot of internal peer pressure. Each and every year, you have to mark 10% of them for getting kicked off the island. Year after year.

    And your employees know it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a cobbled together coding unit, or the best troubleshooters in the company — you get ranked against your peers in your department and even if you’re in the top 1% of the company in talent and work, if you’re in a group of 10 and you’re the bottom guy — you have a pink slip in your future.

    Everyone, from the bottom up, got ranked that way. The bell curve ruthlessly applied in all it’s gloriousness. Applied per department. There was no acknowledgement that maybe, just maybe, less than 10% of your department was ‘dead weight’ (or even that your ‘dead weight’ might be a heck of a lot better than someone else’s superstar). No acknowledgement that firing the bottom 10% forever was kinda stupid, because as long as you ranked employees you’d ALWAYS have a bottom 10% and you’d just end up churning the pond and no matter how good you were, getting grouped unluckily could send you out — pure luck, not skill or talent.

    And to do this with a bunch of competitive coders working insane hours, with their salaries, raises, and bonuses on the line? Apparently nobody wanted cooperation. (And that doesn’t even get into the arcane rules of who is and isn’t allowed to transfer, based on rankings…).

    It’s a system that could only be brought to you by a CEO, who wanted to make darn sure his nefarious middle management wasn’t coddling workers. Middle management whose judgement he didn’t trust, and workers he obviously considered very replaceable.

    All fairness to Balmer — he didn’t invent the system (GE did) but he stuck with a particularly horrible version long after everyone else had at LEAST modified it to reality a bit — yes, your distribution of scores should be a normal distribution in a sense, but not a perfect one. After all, you are (theoretically) selectively hiring and firing to start with — not just at review time.Report

    • Avatar krogerfoot in reply to Morat20 says:

      True. Must seem like an elegant system to everyone in the upper tiers who isn’t subject to it.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Morat20 says:

      The stacked ranking system is not an obviously good or obviously bad policy. Without the guidelines, it’s too easy for a manager to say “well, all my guys are all great.” That might be true, but by the time the tenth manager in a row tells you that, you know someone is wrong.

      A stacked ranking system that requires there to be one and only one dolt out of every ten employees is also going to be wrong much of the time. Sometimes two people should be let go. Other times, none.

      I’d like to do some research as to what studies have been done of these sorts of systems and expand on this in another post.Report

      • It strikes me as reasonable to say “Stack the employees. Then take the bottom 10% and explain why they should not be let go.” If there’s good reason not to let them go, then you don’t have to. But you at least force an eye towards dropping the deadweight.

        On the other hand, that doesn’t solve the cooperation issue.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        This strikes me as a decent policy to institute every 10 years or so. Trim the fat, get rid of the deadweight. (I’m sure we’ve all worked in offices where we’ve had a non-zero number of co-workers who were more helpful on vacation than when they were actually in the building.)

        It strikes me as a horrible policy to have year after year after year.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Morat20 says:

      Only 10%. Sheesh, programmers bellyache about everything!
      It’s top 50% at wall street firms, isn’t it?Report