Talk about the end of an era …
The big news in business circles this week is Bill Gates’ decision to leave Microsoft. His decision will result in a lot of fallout in the industry, not the least of which will be the inevitable flood of opinion pieces dissecting the decision itself; its impact on the future of Microsoft; and Gates’ impact on life, the universe, and everything.
Why should Keep the Joint Running be the exception? Here’s what comes to mind:
The decision itself: Very smart. Others have pointed this out, too — Gates has nothing left to accomplish at Microsoft and would have gone stale had he stayed. By focusing on the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation he’ll have whatever new frontiers he wants for the rest of his life.
Impact on Microsoft: In the short term, very little — the transition will take two years, and he’s done an exemplary job of succession planning. In the long term, Microsoft will become a very different company, because corporate culture always reflects the personality of the company’s leader in some way, shape or form.
Gates’ impact on life, the universe, and everything: The personal computer would have happened with or without Bill Gates. The IBM PC architecture would have trounced both the Apple and generic CP/M architectures, too, for a very simple reason: IBM wanted to dominate the business use of personal computers, while Steve Jobs wanted to dominate being very cool with technology, Steve Wozniak wanted to play, and Gary Kildall wanted to fly.
But the personal computer wouldn’t have happened the way it did without Gates and his merry band of renegades. Because of them, the computer that invaded corporate desktops was fundamentally personal — an empowering technology that flattened corporate hierarchies and increased the ability of individual knowledge workers to influence business strategy, direction and outcomes. Had IBM maintained control of the architecture … OS/2 was its attempt to regain it … there’s little doubt that the PC would have been a very different animal.
Microsoft’s mission was to put a computer on every desk and Microsoft software in every computer. Give them credit — from a virtual green field, they accomplished what they set out to accomplish.
A few other thoughts: Start with this — Bill Gates gets a kick out of the technology itself. Anyone who has seen him demo new Microsoft products comes away with the same impression. He personally finds this stuff to be very cool. He’s like a kid in a toy store, except that he owns the toy store, and the toy factory too.
I just wish more CIOs got the same kick out of the technology they manage.
One other point: Gates and company achieved something mind-boggling in the annals of business history. They started as a garage business and continued to run it … successfully … as it grew through the $100 million, $1 billion, and $10 billion business breakpoints. It’s been done before, but it’s a rare achievement. Usually, founders have to turn over control to professional business managers because they don’t know how to run an organization beyond a certain size.
Gates, in contrast, adapted Microsoft to constantly changing business trends, at least three major technical watersheds, and its own stupendous increase in size without it ever losing its focus. Microsoft is about winning, has been from the beginning, and is to this day.
Compare that to the company you work for and ask yourself this basic question: Is “winning” in your company defined in Microsoft’s terms — winning customer mindshare, from that marketshare, and from that profits and shareholder value? If so, you’re lucky.
Probably, you work for a small business, too. In most corporate giants, “winning” is defined in terms of internal politics and rivalries, and corporate success is measured by the price of a share of stock, not by the health, success, and impact of the business.
I’ve read many times that Bill Gates turned a lot of people into millionaires, as if that was of any consequence. Bill Gates and his company changed how companies conduct business. That matters.
So here’s what you can learn from Bill Gates: Focus your attention on accomplishing something important. If you do, you and everyone who works for you will find their work less stressful and more rewarding.
You, and they, will probably manage to earn a pretty good living while you’re all at it, too.