Gather ’round, children, for it is time to hear a tale of a kingdom riven by strife and mired in woe. Our story opens on the proud capital city known as the Microsoft Redmond Campus, nestled amid the volcanic mountains of Washington.
In his modestly appointed chambers, the aging king is lonely. He has many fine troubadours and jousters to entertain him–but could one of his noblemen be conspiring to overthrow him? Better to dispatch the problem now, by dispatching the possible insurgent.
This is the mental image we can’t help but form after reading this Reuthers interview with Joachim Kempin, a former Microsoft exec who’s now written a tell-all with the clunky title of Resolve and Fortitude: Microsoft’s “SECRET POWER BROKER” Breaks His Silence.
Mr. Kempin worked at the company from 1983 to 2002, and it does not sound like he is a fan of Mr. Ballmer. In fact, he accuses the CEO of driving out anyone who could possibly challenge his position on the throne of swords. “For Microsoft to really get back in the game seriously, you need a big change in management,” he told Reuters.
“I respect that guy (Ballmer), but there are some limitations in what he can and can’t do and maybe he hasn’t realized them himself,” he added.
You mean noted chair-thrower Steve Ballmer might not be the best of managers? We’re shocked.
As an example of the machinations at work, Mr. Kempin cites several abrupt departures, including Richard Belluzzo, who bailed as COO within 14 months:
“He (Belluzzo) had no room to breathe on the top. When you work that directly with Ballmer and Ballmer believes ‘maybe this guy could someday take over from me’, my God, you will have less air to breathe, that’s what it comes down to.”
Of course, complaints from a former employee always warrant a great big barrel of skepticism. And it’s not like Mr. Kempin’s record is entirely clean, either. Reuters says he left “under a cloud,” after some of the deals he cut while overseeing the sale of Windows software to PC makers didn’t help the company’s antitrust case.
But it’s not like it’s a surprise that there could be vicious palace politics at play in the halls of Microsoft, either. In August, for example, Vanity Fair published a juicy expose detailing how the company’s system of “stack ranking” encourages infighting. In short, even if you’ve got a team of top performers, someone in the group is getting low marks, which isn’t the kind of thing that fosters teamwork.
Hey, we know who to ask about this. Anyone got a working email for Steve Sinofsky?