Seven days after news of Steve Ballmer’s impending exit from Microsoft, partners are still pondering what it will mean for the company’s SMB channel.
By Rich Freeman
August 30, 2013
One week ago today, Steve Ballmer announced that he would retire as CEO of Microsoft Corp. within 12 months. Arriving as it did scarcely more than a month after a major corporate reorganization, the news came as a shock to some outside observers—but not to many in Microsoft’s SMB channel.
“I kind of expected something like this to happen, so it wasn’t really a surprise to me,” says Kevin Royalty, managing partner of Centerville, Ohio-based Total Care Computer Consulting LLC and a member of Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional community of outside technical experts.
Same goes for Bob Nitrio, CEO of Ranvest Associates, an IT consultancy in Orangevale, Calif. “I was not at all surprised given the things that have gone on in Microsoft’s world recently,” he says, pointing specifically to the disappointing launch of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system and the company’s recent decision to write down $900 million worth of apparently unsellable Surface RT tablets.
Now Nitrio and Royalty are two of many channel pros pondering Ballmer’s legacy and wondering what, if anything, his exit will mean for Microsoft partners.
Nitrio, like many of his peers, believes Ballmer’s failure to drive innovation in fast-growing markets like cloud computing and mobility made his resignation inevitable, if not overdue. “Steve is a very intelligent individual, but he’s been the wrong person to lead Microsoft for some time,” he states. “He’s a really good business manager but I don’t think he’s a visionary.”
Ed Correia, by contrast, sees Ballmer as a scapegoat for moves made in many cases by other executives and the firm’s board of directors. Correia is president of Sagacent Technologies Inc., a managed service provider in San Jose, Calif. Too often, he says, people blame all of a company’s woes on its CEO. “The larger the company gets, the less likely it is that it’s all coming from that one guy,” Correia notes.
Just the same, Correia—who has been a Microsoft partner for 20 years and, like plenty of other channel pros, still loves many of the company’s products—believes that relations between Microsoft and its once-happy channel took a serious dip during Ballmer’s reign. “Today, most of the firms I know and associate with in the industry are no longer Microsoft partners,” he says, identifying slim margins on cloud-based offerings like Office 365 and the company’s steady push beyond software into markets that partners once had to themselves, like services and devices, as big reasons why.
“I feel less and less valued in this relationship as time goes on,” says Correia, who doubts that replacing Ballmer will change that much. “Sadly, I expect that even after his departure from Microsoft, the company will continue to make decisions that separate it from its channel partners,” he states.
Others, however, hold out hope that Microsoft’s next CEO will make strengthening ties with partners a priority. “There’s a lot of unhappiness out there now, so it doesn’t seem to me like it would be too difficult to win [the channel] over,” says Michael Cocanower, president of itSynergy, an SMB solution provider and MSP in Phoenix, Ariz. A few encouraging words might be all it takes for at least some disgruntled Microsoft partners to give the company a second chance. “An outstretched hand would be accepted,” he predicts.
Like most partners, Cocanower has little feel for who Ballmer’s replacement will eventually be, but he hopes it’s someone with a deep understanding of technology and long-term vision for its future, such as former chief software architect Ray Ozzie, who left Microsoft in 2010. Royalty, for his part, would like to see someone completely new to the company take over. Microsoft, he argues, needs a leader capable of doing for it what one-time CEO Louis Gerstner did for IBM in the 1990s: streamline the company organizationally, boost its agility, and position it to start setting market trends instead of reacting to them.
“Bringing someone new in should break up some of the entrenched fiefdoms at Microsoft, and I think that could be a good thing,” Royalty says. Whether Ballmer’s departure actually will be good for Microsoft, though, remains an open question. “It’s hard to know right now until they pick a successor,” Royalty observes. “Depending on what happens it could be good or bad. I’m hoping it’s going to be good.”