Steve Ballmer on management style

CIO Asia – At a recent Microsoft event announcing software and services for small and medium sized businesses in Redmond, WA, CIO Asia went one-on-one with Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft Corp., to gain his insights into technology trends and management style.

CIO Asia: What are some of the key IT enablers that CIOs can use to boost sales and revenue ability?

Steve Ballmer: Number one is customer contact. IT is a tool for improved customer contact. How does a company make itself more available to its customers, to align its people to be able to communicate with its customers using online tools. Not just e-mail, but real-time communication and collaboration, Webinars and the like. That would be number one--driving better connectivity between companies and customers. Number two is business intelligence. The more I can analyse what I know about my customers, the more I can either design products or price products for maximum value to my customers, which helps me drive revenue. Goal number three is that anybody who manages a decent sized sales force or service force, the ability to get more productivity out of sales capacity is one of the keys to growth.

CIO: What are your thoughts on outsourcing as a trend?

Ballmer: I talked about hosting which I consider very different from outsourcing. Outsourcing is the phenomenon of asking people who don't work for you to do jobs that people need to do everyday. Hosting is essentially the job of asking computers and software that you don't own to do work for you everyday. Take our FrontBridge [Technologies] acquisition or even Salesforce.com, we don't add when we add a new customer, we add more computers and software. When IBM outsources for a company, essentially they are taking on more people. There may be a role for outsourcing, but anytime you can get computers to do the job of people, that is a pretty interesting proposition, and that was really the proposition we were talking about today with services that scale with computers as opposed to services that scale with people.

CIO: What do you see as your challenges and priorities as a CEO of a company as diverse and large as Microsoft?

Ballmer: There are two different perspectives--what are my personal objectives and what are the company objectives. The company has to have a priority to focus in on opportunities for growth: how to compete, how to innovate, how to drive our messages broadly to the marketplace,how to build our talent sets. My goals certainly include those, but some of those, I have delegated to people who work for me. My job is to make sure I pick the right people, and I give them the right training, and the right coaching. I'm trying to make sure my organisation is well-equipped to go after those goals. And there is a substantive difference.

So, I could say to you for example that it is a big objective for Microsoft Corp. to get a presence in the living room with IP TV, and with X-box. That's a big goal for the company, a big dream, a big quest. On my personal goal sheet that I give to the board of directors, I don't have it. I have really have my key direct in this area achieve his goals, and help make sure he has got the right people, infrastructure, and support.

If I were to list my big objectives, the first one would be to get my people right, my direct reports. The next big one I list is to get the culture right, the culture that lets us recruit the best and the brightest. It has to be a culture of accountability, respect, growth, and innovation; these are my four top goals.

CIO: In terms of your vision, do you find that it is a paradigm shift that brings your company up to the next level, or is it an evolutionary process of incremental steps?

Ballmer: Once you start something, you've got to keep after it. When you start something new with a new paradigm, and we do, most things you don't get perfect on your fist try. So, graphical user interface was a paradigm shift, it took us a few versions to get Windows right. Mobility was a paradigm shift, I think we are now getting the software and the devices really right. So, there are key paradigm shifts in which we invest, but you got to be patient to make sure you really get them right. You need some customer feedback and learning along the way also.

So, I don't think everything is incremental, but I don't believe that everybody who refuses to do the hard work and show the patience and tenacity is also going to succeed even with new paradigm shifts.

CIO: Any final words for CIOs?

Ballmer: I would tell people to really make sure they are spending enough time on what I would call the business-technology boundary. Some CIOs are completely focused in on the technology, and they get disconnected to the business, and some CIOs are very closely connected to the business, but don't really understand what technology permits, and the best CIOs are going to be the ones that ride that boundary and connection the best.

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