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Is Steven Sinofsky the best choice to replace Steve Ballmer as CEO of Microsoft?

Steve Ballmer has been hammered by the press, the media and bloggers for almost as long as he has been CEO of Microsoft.

The gregarious CEO of Microsoft has been criticized for his showmanship, larger than life persona, off the cuff gaffes and strategic blunders. Every few months, there is a debate about whether to replace him and if so, with who?

Recently, the spotlight has fallen on the current President of the Windows Division, Steven Sinofsky as a potential heir apparent to the top job.

While all that speculation is still at rumor levels, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at Steven Sinofsky and ask if he would be the best candidiate to replace Steve Ballmer as the CEO of Microsoft.

A lot of this is obvious but a quick rundown through memory lane never hurt anyone.

Sinofsky has a bachelors degree from Cornell University (Arts and Sciences, 1987) and a masters degree in computer science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

He has been with Microsoft since 1989 and started his career there as a software design engineer. He joined the Microsoft Office team in 1994 when the Office unit was formed as the director of program management.

During his career at Microsoft he has worked with and managed:

  • Microsoft Foundation Classes C++ library for Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Visual C++.
  • Microsoft Office 95
  • Microsoft Office 97
  • Microsoft Office 2003
  • Microsoft Office 2007
  • Microsoft Office XP
  • Microsoft Office 2000
  • Windows Live Wave 3
  • Windows Live Wave 5
  • Internet Explorer 8
  • Internet Explorer 10

Source Wikipedia.

Under Sinofsky’s leadership, the Windows Division successfully shipped Windows 7, the successor to Windows Vista.

Windows 7 has received universal praise in the software community not only for the quality of the product but because it was developed and shipped on time.

With over 500 million licenses sold, this has been his crowning achievement to this point. He’s currently at the tip of the spear managing the move to Windows 8 which is seem as a seminal and risky moment for the future of the company.

Ok, we get it – he’s an impressive guy on paper but does he have what it takes to lead the ENTIRE company moving forward?

I put together a list of attributes that I think Microsoft should be looking for in their next leader along with my comments on how Mr. Sinofsky fares.

Strategic Vision/Foresight

The company needs a visionary who is thinking about Microsoft over the next 10 to 50 years. Someone who is able to look at the big picture for the company’s future and make strategic decisions that keep the company profitable as well as in the forefront of our consciousness.

Mr. Sinofsky does well here.

His vision for Windows 8 is original and seems to make a lot of sense for the company moving forward. The move to unify the interfaces for Bing, Xbox, Phone, Tablets, Desktops and Servers is pretty visionary.

Whether it works remains to be seen but it’s a strategic move and whether or not it was his idea, he’s at the heart of making it happen.

Ability to communicate a clear vision

Shockingly, I have mixed feelings about this one. While he has a stellar reputation for not overpromising features in Windows and getting things done, he also has an equally stellar reputation for keeping things very close to the chest.

He clearly is able to convey his vision to developers and team members but his current role has not required him to make grand statements to the public. That’s Mr. Ballmer’s job.

Note – He does share a lot on the Windows 8 Development blog and that is duly noted. I’m still not really sure how he would fare on the big stage communicating the GRAND vision for Microsoft.

Technical expertise

No need to even discuss this. 100 percent qualified.

Business experience

As you can see from his resume, he has worked in almost every part of the company. He MUST have a really good idea of how the business runs BUT he hasn’t really run a massive business before.

Yes, I understand that as president of the Windows Division he’s running a larger business than most of the world’s CEOs. I get that but he still hasn’t run an entire business of this scale before – very few people have.

He is NOT accountable to the shareholders and the board today, Steve ballmer is.

Discipline

This job requires tremendous amounts of discipline. The ability to stay on message and keep the troops (and the public) motivated with the same message isn’t easy.

So far he gets 100% on this one. From all we hear and know, he seems to be a very disciplined man.

Patience

This is one of the question marks that I have about not only Steven Sinofsky but all talented technical champions.

For the most part, the most aggressive technical leaders are not the most patient leaders. It takes a certain toughness to drive a team to deliver a product on time. That’s cool when you run a business unit and have a free hand to make your vision happen.

When you have the entire company to run, it’s a slightly different task. Making a behemoth like Microsoft run on time will take exponentially more patience than is needed right now. Hard to tell how he would handle this one.

Ability to lead by example

From the feedback we have gotten, he walks the walk. Developers who work for him have no doubt that he puts the hours in. He gets a 100% here as well.

Ability to inspire loyalty

I have been impressed by the way he has shared the spotlight with his team members on the Windows 8 development blog. It is a very smart and gracious thing for a leader to do and can only inspire loyalty from those folks (if they’re smart anyway).

While his team swears by his work ethic and abilities, there are executives out in redmond who would not be so charitable. The top job is still a very desirable position and there are questions in my mind about whether he could keep the other executives in line if he got the top job.

Political Savvy

We’re talking about him as a replacement for Ballmer right? In a company like Microsoft he definitely has played his cards right politically.

Ability to build and maintain a reputation

See the previous point. 100%.

Charisma/Image/Likeability

Another question mark here. Mr. Sinofsky is an immensely private person and as such, we are not sure how much we like him or not. He pops out here and there to reveal products and time lines but is hardly as gregarious as Steve Ballmer.

Microsoft is a BIG company and I believe it requires a BIG person to run the ship. Over at Apple, Tim Cook is so much smaller than Steve Jobs was (image wise) and while that’s not been a problem so far, you can’t deny that you miss the grandness of Steve Jobs.

In a similar fashion, Microsoft is a BIG company that will need a BIG voice to remind the world that it plans to be dominant over the next few years. It’s hard to tell whether mr. Sinofsky can be that voice.

Courage/Willingness to take risks

Umm.. Windows 8? The biggest and grandest risk of all. 100%

In summary, Mr. Sinofsky has a lot of the right characteristics required to run Microsoft. He is definitely positioned well if Windows 8 turns out to be as successful as Windows 7 was but there are still some chinks in his armour and I don’t think it’s a slam dunk by any means.

A lot of the non technical skills/soft skills needed for the top job are essential to drive home the company’s dominance over the next few years. It remains to be seen if anyone else can bring the same level of technical, business and personal skills to that job interview that he can.

My take – flaws not withstanding, he’s the guy for the job. He has a good idea of where Microsoft has been and where they have to go. He has the unique history, qualifications and expertise to help the company make the transition forward.

We’ll have to wait and see if the company agrees.

Enough from me – what do you think?

Is Steven Sinofsky the best choice to replace Steve Ballmer as CEO of Microsoft?

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