Comment Could a Briton end up running quintessential American multinational Microsoft, the world’s largest software company?
Or, put another way: could an exec who only briefly ran a small loss-making telco end up in charge of a $73bn business?
Why the hell not, if you’ve got the Silicon Valley mindset.
London boy Tony Bates, born in Isleworth and raised in Teddington, is the hot favorite among Silicon Valley types for running Microsoft, according to a report. He'd go to the top of a rather substantial pile of Brits who've made it to Redmond over the years - still a rarity among US-based tech companies.
All Things D references more than a dozen so-called “tech leaders” in Silicon Valley plus “several top Microsoft execs” as favouring Bates.
The ex-Skype man possesses “all the right assets” making him the “best candidate across all of the various criteria" according to one unnamed source.
“Tony is a bold choice that would say a lot to the rest of the tech world that Microsoft is ready to engage,” the wise ones of the Valley say.
If this is the kind of attitude among tech’s top thinkers and Microsoft brass it’s time to panic.
Bates is understood to be in the running for the top spot – according to early reports by The Wall St Journal and Reuters – along with Nokia CEO Steven Elop, Microsoft’s server and tools chief Satya Nadella and Ford Motor’s chief Alan Mulally.
The Valley brainstrust, though, turns its nose up at Mulally.
The wise ones reckon Mulally would only make sense if Microsoft’s board wants a transitional figure, we understand.
Yet Microsoft has historically struggled with transition – perhaps the former Ford man is just what Redmond needs in this respect.
The PC market is undergoing a fundamental shift, with analysts settling on a consensus that the tablet will start to out-sell the PC during the next year.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is still failing to make money from Bing and Bing-related online services.
Yet it’s the old-world businesses of server and tools, Office and Windows that still remain Microsoft’s biggest money-makers.
The company is heavily overstaffed, too, and there’ll be more bodies once Nokia’s mobile phone employees join, taking headcount beyond the 100,000 barrier and surging towards 130,000.
Microsoft needs somebody like a Mulally, who can spot strengths and weaknesses, unearth the talent and chop the chaff, rip out and install new plumbing. Who'd have thought a career aircraft man had the transferability to restore loss- and market-share losing Detroit car-maker?
But practicality is a dirty word in the Valley, where it’s all about "vision".
The closest Bates has come to running anything like Microsoft was running various operations at Cisco, where he was in charge of a $20m budget and 12,000 staff. But on paper, this only puts him in the same league as Nadella – somebody who is as hampered by a lack of running-a-big-company experience as Bates.
Bates’ remaining qualifications are something called “technical ability” – being a self-taught coder – the fact he understands mobile comms from his whole year spent at Skype and also being “both and insider and an outsider” at Microsoft.
Bates has been with Microsoft for two years. Going by what Steve Ballmer said at the time of the Skype buy, Bates will have been ring-fenced with Skype from the rest of Redmond.
But then, I can’t say I’m surprised by the level of enthusiasm for Bates in The Valley.
It was after all one of the Valley’s most venerated VC operations that pulled a Jedi mind trick and convinced the CEO of the world’s largest maker of software to part with $8.5bn in cash for Bates’ loss-making telco Skype in the first place.
That 2011 deal was sold on “synergies”; cynics saw it as Microsoft buying a verb.
Nobody else was bidding for Skype and Andreessen Horowitz was understood to have wanted nothing less than $7bn, yet Microsoft paid $8.5bn.
And now Andreessen Horowitz has been forced to deny the existence of a new tech bubble. If only it could persuade us the kind of bubble-headed thinking that goes with it is also a thing of the past. ®