Bill Gates should take a small-business approach to turning Microsoft around. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Why should Bill Gates, one of the most recognized global business leaders, accept advice from a small business owner? One of the advantages of operating a 100-employee organization is that we can view all aspects of our operation, remain agile, and move quickly. Large businesses can take advantage of our insights and experiences because, regardless of the size of the business, we all face similar struggles. They’re just on a different scale.
Small businesses have to work hard every day to survive. We discover what matters most really fast or we find ourselves out of business just as fast. Whether we like it or not, businesses must sell to survive—even giants like Microsoft Microsoft. In his book, The Leader Who Had No Title, Robin Sharma points out, “In the new world of business, the riskiest place you can be is trying to do the same things in the same way as you’ve always done them.”
What can Mr. Gates learn from small business that will help him fill the soon-to-be-vacant chair at the top of his organization? Filling the CEO slot at the Microsoft table might be easier than he thinks. Have you have noticed that the missing piece of a puzzle is generally right under your nose, which is why you can’t see it? Microsoft might consider offering the top job to a likable, energetic, no-nonsense salesperson within their organization who has the guts and ingenuity to rekindle the fire for the software giant.
I know it’s a long shot, but why not give a homegrown Microsoft employee from the sales ranks with a high-octane heart and spirit a shot at the top seat? Perhaps it’s time Microsoft considers moving someone up from one of their small farm teams to the major leagues before considering external candidates. The CEO’s primary job is to authentically communicate the vision and message of the company to the world. Salespeople do this all day long. Those who survive in sales learn quickly what resonates and what does not with customers.
One question that Mr. Gates, or anyone in business attempting to fill a top leadership seat within their organization, should ask is: Will this individual rekindle the spark for products and services that the company builds and get the people within the organization excited and energized? They don’t need to be famous or even brilliant. I believe they need to possess a genuine love for the people, products, and services and a willingness to share that love and belief with the world. They need to offer natural and authentic content so that when people hear it they ask for more. It’s as simple as that.
The real treasure for Microsoft (and all businesses, for that matter) is the people who work hard every day to grow or sustain the business. They might not be polished or carry professional portfolios or degrees from Ivy League schools but chances are if they have the right heart and drive they will stand strong with the organization during challenging times.
An excellent example of one of the best sales visionaries today who landed in the top seat of a major corporation is Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit. He has worked in numerous leadership positions, including senior vice president and general manager of Intuit’s Small Business Division, and before that he was the head of Intuit’s Consumer Tax Group in San Diego. Everyone we know inside and outside of his organization holds him in high regard. He’s likable and he’s not shy about promoting his organization. He sets his priorities and makes time for the people within his organization and small businesses like Fishbowl.
I have one rule within my organization that is beyond non-negotiable. All leaders must genuinely and unconditionally love/respect the people, products, and services within the organization. Ninety percent just doesn’t get the job done. To be brutally honest (and a lot of execs might not like hearing this), it doesn’t actually take a lot of smarts to fill the top seat. It takes a lot of heart, trust and willingness to go the distance for the organization even if it means now and again you make yourself vulnerable personally. The people within the organization do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to building the products and services. A great leader gives them credit and spends every waking hour of his or her day sharing this across the globe.
Microsoft has plenty of people who successfully oversee day-to-day operations of the billion-dollar publicly operated enterprise. They should consider hiring someone for the top job who gets over-the-top excited about what Microsoft builds and shares with the world. I believe the ideal candidate could be someone who is not from the upper ranks, which generally consists of a small group of people. Why not let the thousands of Microsoft employees weigh in on who will be their next chief? I would also strongly recommend that Mr. Gates have all their candidates sit down and see if they can pass the standard Microsoft certification exams before they get the top chair to ensure they fully understand the vast capabilities of the products.
The next CEO just might be sitting somewhere within the ranks—an individual with the right heart to lead the company into its finest hour. Microsoft might not be considered the coolest on the market today, but I believe they are most definitely built to last. This, I believe, is the core value proposition of Microsoft: They help people across the globe build and develop skills that can lead to meaningful careers.
These are just a few thoughts from someone who cares about the fate of the big guys and big corporations. They create a multitude of jobs and careers for people. In the end it doesn’t really matter how big or small your company is; we are all remembered for the legacy we leave behind. Good luck to everyone at Microsoft. Thanks for decades of great products and services.
Additional reporting for this article was provided by Mary Michelle Scott, Fishbowl President. David Williams’ book, The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning, is available from Amazon.