The announcement this week, of Steve Ballmer's intention to retire as CEO of Microsoft within twelve months, sounds straightforward. However, when the announcement is read carefully, interesting questions of governance and strategy emerge. The following snippet, from Microsoft's own release, provides the insight:
“The board is committed to the effective transformation of Microsoft to a successful devices and services company,” Thompson said. “As this work continues, we are focused on selecting a new CEO to work with the company’s senior leadership team to chart the company’s course and execute on it in a highly competitive industry.”
The company has struggled to maintain the market dominance it once enjoyed, and a decision has been made to change the leader. Many commentators have proffered views about this, some of which appear here. Whether Ballmer quit of his own volition, or was pressured to do so, is a moot point.
The Board's expectation for the future is more clear—it expects the new CEO to craft strategy and implement successfully ("... selecting a CEO ... to chart the company's course and execute ..."). It seems that the Microsoft Board is not expecting to be involved in the development of strategy, despite the Board's primary role being to maximise company performance in accordance with shareholder wishes. If strategy creation is delegated to the CEO, what is the Board's role? It can only be monitoring and compliance. This is a very narrow, and outdated, view of governance. How does reviewing past performance ensure future success? It doesn't. Success is contingent on understanding the environment, selecting the most effective strategy and successful execution. And even then success is not guaranteed. You would have thought the Microsoft Board would have taken its role more seriously than to delegate this crucial task of strategy formulation to the CEO.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.