May This Crazy Guy Run Microsoft Forever

Which tech company has the best record over the past decade? Apple. Which of Apple’s competitors has fared the worst over the past decade? I say Microsoft.

Allow me a moment to climb out on a limb and state that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is as much responsible for Apple’s successes in the 21st century as Steve Jobs.

In the past 10 years Microsoft’s stock has flatlined. True, the company continues to roll in the cash thanks to Windows and Office, but it’s easy for shareholders, customers, analysts, and Bill Gates to ask, ‘What have you done for me lately, Steve?

The answer would be a simple, ‘Nothing.’ Well, nothing except blow tens of billions of dollars down the drain on one failed venture after another. Microsoft is supposedly an enterprise company and derives a huge chunk of profits by forcing businesses to use their wares.

So, why did Microsoft spend billions on the failed Zune? Why even more billions on Bing? Sure, the Xbox is a big seller, but not a big money maker, and hardly profitable. What of Windows Vista? Windows Phone? Surface RT? Why spend all that money on consumer products?

Maybe it’s because that’s what Apple does, and our favorite Mac maker’s performance in the 21st century speaks for itself. So does Microsoft’s performance. And for all the enterprise noise the company makes, even Ballmer admits that much of what Microsoft does is sell to consumers— PCs, Windows, Office. Windows Phone. Xbox.

Here’s the problem with that strategy. It doesn’t work anymore.

Microsoft is being obliterated by Apple and Google (iPhone, iPad, Android devices) in the mobile market, which is primarily aimed at what Ballmer has now figured out is Microsoft’s bread and butter– consumers.

In every consumer market that matters in the near future of modern technology, Microsoft is basically nowhere to be found. Not in search, not in online advertising, not in mobile computing, not in anywhere that breeds enormous revenue growth and heady profits.

A company’s strategic direction, and it’s performance relative to those objectives, are a reflection of the chief executive office. The CEO. For Microsoft, that’s Steve Ballmer, and he looks more like a big and bald failure than a take-charge, take no prisoners executive in a fast moving and volatile industry.

What if Microsoft had a Steve Jobs-like leader running the company back when founder Bill Gates stepped down? Would Apple’s success have been so meteoric; so definite? I don’t think so. Successful, yes. But not as much because Apple’s last 10 years have been a walk in the park on a spring day, a cakewalk, a picnic, and a no-brainer exercise compared to the anemic efforts of every competitor; but especially Microsoft.

Competition is so desperate to stop Apple’s growth, revenue, and profit curve that they’ve taken to giving away products at cost. Meanwhile, Microsoft is doing exactly what it’s been doing for the past decade.

Falling behind.

Apple will continue on this upward trajectory as long as the competition is reflected by Microsoft and the company’s apparently dysfunctional CEO. May he run Microsoft forever.