A former Vole has ratted on his boss, the shy and retiring CEO of Microsoft Steve Ballmer, who he says holds his grip on his company forcing out any rising manager who challenges his authority.
Joachim Kempin, who has not worked at Microsoft for more than ten years, and worked in sales, has penned a book about his years inside the Vole Hill.
Apparently the world is interested in Microsoft’s dirty deeds between 1983 and 2002. Those years would have seen the best of Vole and the worst of Vole, but Kempin seems to feel qualified to use those years to explain the mess that Microsoft is in now.
He said that for Microsoft to really get back in the game seriously it needs a big change in management and while he respects Ballmer, he needs to go.
Kempin is the most senior former Microsoft executive to write a book critical of the company. He is also the only one to break the employee code of silence (“omerta”) that tends to follow former Voles.
To be fair to Microsoft, he did leave Redmond because he crafted some pretty aggressive contracts which resulted in Vole being canned by the US government’s antitrust watchdog.
His book, with the somewhat understated title ‘Resolve and Fortitude: Microsoft’s “secret power broker” breaks his silence’, is in all good shops today.
In a Reuters interview, Kempin charges Ballmer with a Game of Thrones style of management which involves kicking out any executives with potential to wrest him from the CEO chair.
The first one to go was Richard Belluzzo, a former Hewlett-Packard executive credited with launching the Xbox. He rose to chief operating officer at Microsoft but left after only 14 months in the post.
Belluzzo was apparently given no room to breathe. Apparently when you work that directly with Ballmer and you are a potential rival he makes sure you have less air to breathe. It was not clear how Ballmer rations the oxygen, but we guess he breathes in at the same time as his target.
Kempin said that several leading executives, touted by outsiders at one time or another as potential successors to Ballmer, have left the company in the last few years. The last to go was Windows unit chief Steven Sinofsky, who left in November.
Before Sinofsky, Windows and online head Kevin Johnson went to run Juniper Networks, Office chief Stephen Elop went to phone maker Nokia, while Ray Ozzie, the software man Gates designated as Microsoft’s big-picture thinker, also left.
Kempin said that Ozzie was a great software guy and he knew what he was doing. But Ballmer tended to make it his way or the highway.
Apparently Kempin still keeps in touch. He spoke to Ballmer two years ago and expressed his concerns about his management style and direction of the company, but has seen no changes since.
He did send a copy of the book to both Ballmer and Gates but is yet to get a reply.
Kempin said that Ballmer was a good chief operating officer, not a CEO. There are limitations in what he can and can’t do and it is possible that he hasn’t realised them himself, Kempin said.
In his book, Kempin said that Microsoft foresaw the major moves in technology in the last decade, but bungled its entry into tablets, phones and social media.
He said that Vole had tablet software when Windows XP came out, but it was never followed up properly.
Kempin also claims that the decline of PCs is partly due to Microsoft’s mismanagement of hardware makers. We guess that happened after Kempin left Microsoft. What he appears to mean is the idea of Microsoft making its own hardware, which is something its partners are also concerned about.
The book has its best quotes when it comes to Ballmer and the Microsoft board.
He said the board is a lame duck and always has been. It hires people to help administer the company, but not to lead the company.
Microsoft needs somebody 35-40 years old, a younger person who understands the Facebook generation and the mobile community, Kempin suggests.
Vole does not need a guy on stage with this fierce, aggressive look, announcing the next version of Windows and thinking he can score with it.