Today, Microsoft sill wants to be like Steve Jobs was for Apple, and now that the 1990s knocked on Microsoft’s door and took back former CEO Steve Ballmer, the Windows maker has transformed itself into an even more successful company– by copying Steve Jobs.
For more than four years– since Ballmer was shown the door– Microsoft has done what Steve Jobs managed to do in a variety of industries. Jobs was the master at market disruption. Microsoft was mostly a copycat technology company (yes, I know; all tech companies copy from each other, but you understand the sentiment, right– Mac vs. Window?).
Jobs disrupted the entire personal computer industry with the early Apple I and II and IIe. Then disrupted it again with the Mac. His reward (other than money)? Jobs was shown the door by the guy he hired to guard the door. From there, Jobs went on to found NeXT (which Apple bought for a few hundred million dollars), take over Pixar Animation Studios, and, upon his return, reinvent Apple in his image.
The just kept on coming for Jobs. Apple Store, iTunes and iPod, iTunes Music Store, iPhone and iPad. And, importantly, profits and market valuation. In other words, Jobs disrupted and profited from that string of hits.
That is exactly where Microsoft has become like Steve.
Microsoft has expanded into and disrupted a few markets (think cloud services) while managing to grow profits, and protect Windows and Office cash cows. By any measure that effort, in just a few years, should be rewarded. And it has been rewarded.
Microsoft disrupted itself and disrupted cloud services and going back to the roots of software. CEO Satya Nadella:
We are in the business of basically meeting unmet, unarticulated needs of customers. And there’s no way you’re going to be able to get that consistently right if you don’t have that deep sense of empathy, or being able to see what others are seeing.
One might call it that vision thing and few would deny that Steve Jobs had it in abundance, along with his penchant for being, uh, um, how about innovative? Some Microsoft watchers say the same about the Windows and Office maker.
Look at the Surface line of Windows personal computers. Disruptive? Yes. Success? The jury might still be deliberating here, but Microsoft’s Surface revenue is at record levels while the Mac has dropped to 2010 levels. Those Windows-powered notebook tablet hybrids don’t get used as tablets too much, but there is enough differentiation there to help drive the PC market out of the doldrums to the first growth in about six years.
Obviously, something very wrong has happened to the Mac at Apple, and something very right is going on at Microsoft. What did Microsoft’s new leadership do? Isn’t it obvious? They became more like Steve Jobs– willing to take risks, and some of those risks became successful disruption– the Surface line of PCs, Windows 10, Microsoft’s Azure cloud services. The market responded, too, as MSFT has a market cap well over $800-billion.
And all it took was a leader willing to be a little more like Steve.