Thoughts on Edward Snowden and the NSA

It has been an ongoing topic of discussion in the media regarding Edward Snowden and the NSA since the story was initially covered in a series of exposes starting on June 5, 2013 .   It has raised a lot of questions about  our government and their role in national security and the lives of its citizens.  There is still information we do not know about that Edward Snowden has obtained and the ramifications of his actions.  What data did he leak? How much data? Why did he do it?  What will the final fall out be from what has been disclosed? Is there even greater controversy ahead of us?  There are those who consider him a criminal and those that consider him a saint. Some even want to nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize. What is painfully clear is that the discussion he has brought before us regarding our civil liberties is relevant and very timely.  Maybe more fundamentally the questions is, “What is privacy”?

A small recap on what has happened.  Edward Snowden was a contractor for the National Security Agency.  He collected a lot of data from NSA surveillance and decided to make it public via the web.  The data was leaked to the Guardian and the Washington Post.  Some of the sensitive information showed that the US had been spying on allies such as Germany and Brazil. Snowden explained his actions saying: “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things [surveillance on its citizens]… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded… My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them”.  Because of his actions Edward Snowden was forced to flee the United States, first going to Hong Kong and eventually seeking and receiving asylum in Russia.

There is no question that Edward Snowden broke the law.  Had he done this forty years ago he probably would have been tried for treason.  He would have been hunted by American intelligence agencies. We were in the midst of the cold war and the likeliest of buyers for this type of information would have been the Soviet Union (For younger audiences watch the Sean Penn flick, “The Falcon and the Snowman”).  He also has impacted American standing in the world.  Despite the nature of what has been spied on when it comes to other foreign leaders,  I find it a bit hypocritical that some say “they are shocked”.  As more details come out it seems everyone is spying in everyone.  This seemed known and common during the cold war.  Did people somehow expect that this stopped when the Berlin Wall fell? Not surprisingly Edward Snowden received asylum in Russia.  Our foreign friend are shrewd political animals as well.  President Obama was all lined up to take the Chinese to task over cyber security.  But once the Snowden documents leaked that discussion was dead on arrival.

Times change, that much is written.  In today’s society a few things have caused a data collection explosion.  When mobile phones burst onto the scene our time spent talking increased and what in the telecom world is known as a call detail record (CDR) also increased. These CDR’s exist in terabytes and each carrier has many terabytes of these stored, as does the NSA.  Initially this was the big crux of what the NSA had collected, on many private citizens.  It is the world Edward Snowden does not want to live in.  The problem is the thirst of technology is not one of a ethical dilemma. How will Edward Snowden feel when he is driving down the freeway and exceeds the speed limit by 10mph and receives a ticket via text or email?  If he disputes it a video recording can be produced to verify he broke the law.  As most of us know this technology exists today.  How much video is stored of people who are not breaking the law?  What is done with it?  When you go to 7-11 are you being recorded?  The technology of data collection today is not sophisticated enough to tell what is threatening to national security and what is purely a private conversation.  That may evolve but I believe we are a long way off in solving that problem.

Edward Snowden says he was elected to do this.  That he has done the public a service, but remember one of the backdrops of all this high-tech surveillance is 9/11.  Even Bill Gates when asked recently on the Charlie Rose show, could not offer support to Edward Snowden.  We have a choice before us, do we want to risk another 9/11?  In order to prevent that what are we willing to sacrifice?  We live in a world of ever-increasing connectivity which means more and more information is know about each and every one of us.  The only way to avoid this is to completely disconnect from mobile phones and the internet and in doing so disconnect from society.  In our lust for goods and services I do not foresee this happening anytime soon.  In fact it will only accelerate, we are in a very exciting time as things that once seemed beyond the realm of reality are no longer that far off.  We have private space travel, it is still very early, but we have it available. Robocop the movie is being re-energized, RoboCop the reality may not be so far off..

In the end I think though some may consider Edward Snowden’s plight noble, however I think he was naive in the way the world works.  What he wanted was his cake and he wanted to eat it to. Without saying it he wants to be disconnected.  He is concerned about what the government is doing, but what about corporate America?  The idea of privacy is a complicated one.  In a world being increasingly driven by the concept of instant gratification we give up privacy on a near daily basis.  Our security is being threatened via cyber space on a daily basis.  In the long run Edward Snowden may be revered for what he has done, however in the short run he is nothing more than a common criminal, who had the big ideas of youth but not the understanding of experience.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann February 13, 2014

End of an Era as Ballmer steps down

I guess there was no way I could not comment on the latest announcement. It was a big one that surprised and gratified a great many people. Wall Street certainly liked it and to be frank, I think a great many Microsoft employees welcomed it.  On August 22nd Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced he would be retiring within 12 months or once a successor had been chosen.  It is a big day at Microsoft after many years of floundering, the guy who has been at the top since 2000 is stepping aside.  I have waited a week or so to get my thoughts around this change, as well as read as many articles as I can on what the post Ballmer Microsoft might look like. But as we look back and look forward it may be a case of be careful what you ask for as whoever takes the reigns will have a daunting task before them.

I was once told back in the day that Microsoft had a problem called “a cult of personality” .  The cult being Ballmer and Gates.  Not long after Bill announced that he was stepping down as CEO.  Bill envisioned the future and the role Microsoft would play and seemed to succeed at everything until he stepped down..  The company led by Steve would go through its first big transformation.  Moving from the mindset of a small entrepreneurial company to the mindset of a big American corporation.  It was new territory, a small tech company just 5 years before, now a Fortune 500 company.  Ballmer chose to follow then american business idol, Jack Welch to build the corporate Microsoft.   But everyone had faith in Steve, so it was not questioned. Throughout this process, even though Bill had removed himself from day-to-day operations, the company was still being led by those two friends from Harvard.   If you think about up until the day Ballmer departs the doors of Microsoft, the company has known no other leaders than Gates and Ballmer.  It has been and still is ingrained into the DNA of the culture of Microsoft.  Until the past five or six years it was not questioned.  Every shift, every great memo, every huge press release contained either Steve or Bill or both.

If you look at the numbers, it would be hard to call Ballmer’s reign anything but a success.  The company now generates over $70 billion in revenues.  It has nearly 100,000 employees and 66,000 contractors.  It has succeeded in the enterprise with the Windows Server line(Active Directory technology), SQL Server, Sharepoint Server, etc…  Windows and Office continue to reign supreme over the desktop world. Xbox has risen to be one  of the leading game consoles. The one big exception in the numbers would be the flat performance of Microsoft stock.  Where he gets criticized is the big misses, missing the mobile phone market and blundering on the tablet, which has led to the ultimate crime losing the developer.  As much as they embraced the internet, even when I was there, I don’t think that Microsoft under Ballmer, fully understood the internet, thus their tardiness in moving to the cloud.  Rather than move forward they looked backward and tried to protect their existing market share.

Since announcing his resignation Ballmer has been very critical of himself over the launch of Windows Vista.  Calling the release his biggest mistake.  I guess in saying that it validates one of my biggest disagreements with  Steve.  Was Vista a bad release of Windows? Yes.  Was it one of the most anticipated and delayed products ever? Yes.  Did we have to go through multiple execs to ship it?  Yes.  But I guess in calling out a product as his greatest failing, that to me, is the issue.  It is a mindset of the legacy of Microsoft.  Shipping product.  In my opinion the biggest mistake was not seeing the shift to a mobile world and realizing both the products and experiences that would be needed for Microsoft to fully participate in “the mobile future”.    With the announcement of the acquisition of Nokia’s Devices and Services division it shows Microsoft dramatically trying to transform itself to meet the challenges of this new age.  That will be the subject of another post.

There are certainly questions with the timing of the departure.  Microsoft has just announced the largest re-org in its history  A change that whatever the outcome will redefine the company, for better or for worse.  Followed by Steve’s announcement and then the acquisition of Nokia.  But if you start to think about it, all these changes coming at once does not happen randomly.  Microsoft is on the process of making big bets.  Companies in tech can rise very quickly, but what is less documented but equally true is they can fall.  For every Google there is a Yahoo, for a Facebook a MySpace, for a Microsoft a WordPerfect, Lotus 123, Novell etc..But it is curious that Ballmer would announce the largest re-org in history and  then step down so suddenly. Whomever succeeds him will need to be bought in on the re-org, but then it seems all these recent big announcements are connected.

When he steps down who will lead?  Given the acquisition of Nokia and the return of Stephen Elop, the early odds makers have Elop being the next CEO of Microsoft.  On the surface it makes sense.  If as I stated above, we believe all these events are connected, than Elop would likely have discussed these changes well in advance of the re-org announcement and the purchase of Nokia, plus he is ex-Microsoft.  At a time where the company craves a dynamic leader, if Elop is chosen it would be like Pope Benedict XVI succeeding Pope John Paul II.  A conservative, but safe choice.  Microsoft employees will await there Pope Francis.  I hope Elop does not do another “burning platform” memo, that would be a bad sign for the company.  The good news is Stephen is a confident and eloquest speaker, He led the Microsft Office division, which is no small task and wil give him some credibility to start. That should get him through the first six months should he assume the role, but after that hunting season will be open.

Some of the other bets and names that have been thrown about seem a bit far-fetched.  One was Kevin Turner, current COO. I dismiss this one simply because this would need Bill Gates blessing.  I cannot imagine a scenario where Bill Gates says, “Let the Wal-Mart guy have a shot”. J Allard, though a popular guy never ran an org close to the size of Microsoft, he was not even the number one guy in XBox.  Steve Sinofsky is interesting, but he was a somewhat polarizing figure while at MS so I don’t see those one happening.  A lot of names come from the outside but usually with Microsoft ties: Kevin Johnson, Bob Muglia, Vic Gudotra and Paul Maritz.  Of the four Paul Maritz is the most visionary and has a track record of success at VMware.  I think Bill likes him as well but he would need convincing to take on such a daunting task.  His downside would be he is not a consumer guy as he has always focused on big enterprise challenge.  Vic, now at Google and doing very well, would have the same challenge as J Allard.  Kevin and Bob I just don’t see, though I respected them both when they were at Microsoft, it would seem late in their careers to take over this role.  I am a bit surprised tha no one was groomed for this role, it seems a rather sudden departure.

Of all the aforementioned candidates in my mind the only one worth considering, would be Paul Maritz.   Maybe more importantly Is the fact that there is no leader I have heard of that inspires in me a dramatic shift at Microsoft.  There in lies the challenge; Whoever takes over will not have the knowledge of how Microsoft works even remotely close to Steve and Bill.  When the change happens it will be seismic as in Microsoft’s entire history has always been about the “Cult” of Bill and Steve, and legacies have a way of enduring beyond their expiration date.  For someone new to come in and say “I lead this company” will not be an easy things. This is however both the exciting and frightening thing about change, you do not know what to expect.  For many at Microsoft it will prove both challenging and frustrating.

Steve, loved the company, as he said many times.  His legacy will be felt for many years to come..  During his tenure there were certainly times where he achieved great highs and seemed to walk on water.  Those were long ago.  More recently he was criticized for lack of vision and relying on Microsoft’s legacy and not its future.  Only time will determine what his legacy will be and how history will judge him.  The future for Microsoft is now uncertain.  For many who wanted to see this happen, the question will remain, “now what?”.    If you polled a hundred people about what Microsoft should now do, I feel confident you would get a hundred different answers.  You got your wish, now be careful of what you wished for.  Uncertainty is a future without confidence.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann September 6, 2013

Bing-ality

Microsoft Bing since its launch has been considered the primary competitor to the behemoth known as Google search. It is a valiant effort in a very lucrative market space. However despite the immense opportunity,the term success has so far eluded Microsoft Bing.  When you look at Search Engine market share the numbers continue to improve for Bing as it hit over 17% in April, however the revenues have so far failed to materialize.  In Q2 of Fy13 for Microsoft’s Online Services Division lost money, $283 million.  In Q1 Google generated over $11 billion in revenue.  Granted Microsoft’s OSD is not just Bing, but all the other online services such as MSN and Outlook Mail.  The flip side of course is we really don’t know how Bing as a stand alone business is doing, despite the market share increases.

The history of Bing some may say is one of failed opportunity.  I am not so sure it is so much that as it is understanding online reality.  Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer often have said they blew it on search and I have often said they would never have figured it out.  Even if they had I am not so sure they would have been willing to take the financial risk to challenge Google at the time (remember we are going back to the 2002/2003 time frame) .  In his short stint at Microsoft Ray Ozzie provided the best analysis of Google.  He stated that they were using their immense revenues to fund software development projects that would compete against Microsoft. It was an indirect model, where ad revenues funded software engineering.  As has been shown Google has a lot of revenue to fund these projects.  It was difficult for Microsoft to grasp as they for so long have lived off of volume license revenues.

In the past decade it took a long time for Bing to come to the forefront.  First Microsoft toyed around with  Live search.  It was not a well named product.  Certainly not as fun as saying, “Google”.  But globally it did ok and when you looked at the top 100 websites, Live did appear in the top twenty.  It just did not have an ad word business model set up that could compete with what Google was doing.  Microsoft was slow in understanding the competitive threat that Google posed, if not holistically, at least opportunistically.  My view is Microsoft viewed it as another software market to conquer rather than the threat it was to existing businesses, namely Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows.   This is just another market space in which we are entitled to own.

As things progressed so did Microsoft’s desperation ending in an audacious bid to acquire its competitor Yahoo.  Luckily for Microsoft and many grad schools across America this would end in the ego of Yahoo founder Jerry Yang as he made every attempt to kill  the deal. In the end this may have worked out for the benefit of Microsoft as they entered onto a partnership rather than spending $40 billion on an acquisition that may have been doomed to fail. While Jerry Yang seemingly failed business 101 which is to increase shareholder value, not decrease it.  He is now a case study for business graduate school history.

What has happened as these events have unfolded  is that Google has systematically found other business opportunities to augment and promote its search business and increase revenues.  Namely using the mobile phenomena to launch Android.  This has led to great headway in the mobile phone business and the tablet.  In 2013 it is projected that there will be 800 million Android devices sold.  None of these devices will have Bing as the default search engine.  In addition there will be 300 million iOS devices sold in 2013, again none will have Bung as the default search engine.  I only wrote this to share with Steve  as he seems to be unaware of this fact, but hey, he is a numbers guy.

So what does Bing do?  For starters that Apple iOS number is key.  One of Steve Jobs last talks to the Apple faithful at their corporate headquarters was about the evils of its key competitor Google.  There is no question that there is no love lost between the two.  Apple has tried to compete with Google head to head.  The failed Apple Maps comes to mind.  In my opinion a rare case of me saying, “Whose stupid idea at Apple was this?”  Google owns that space and barring some catastrophe, I do not see them losing in that space.  So with all that hate and failure what if Bing was the default search engine for Apple iOS?  Instantly Bing would have access to 300 million users.  Granted this would be a bizarre twist of fate, but Microsoft is not in a position of power in this space and Apple would like nothing better than to hurt Google.  If Bing can meet Apple’s high quality standards they could have a very compelling play in this space and be considered attractive to Apple.

There is also a bigger question of “if Not Microsoft than who?”.  Competition  that is not challenged is a threat to the greater benefit of society.  They can dictate terms, which is never a good thing.  When we look at companies that are able to challenge Google there are few with the cash reserves to do it.  One of the few would be Microsoft.  And frankly they owe it to us all.  Fundamentally competition is a good thing and maybe Bing is competing, it’s just that Google is pushing their game to a higher place.  If that is true than Bing needs to set a higher bar, not just compete at parity.  Faster more accurate search is nice, but we are reaching a point where for the end-user it is becoming increasingly difficult. to distinguish in milliseconds.

Another factor is much of Bing’s success is tied to other products like Windows 8, Surface and Windows Phone.  To successfully get people to switch alla Coke versus Pepsi, is not so easy as there is a lot more tied to it than just switching a can. The effort Microsoft must put in will take years, which in technology is worlds away.    So far it has been slow in coming and market share has increased at a snail’s pace.  This may drain Microsoft’s cash reserves but the reward is high Once yo have been great there is always a thirst to be great again and I think that more than anything drives Microsoft.  To get there search will be a key cog in the engine.  Information rules the world and if Bing is not successful Google very well could rule that world.  Bing is in a tough place but it is a fight worth fighting.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann July 10, 2013

The Cultural Phenomena of Technology

It is one of those things that begins with a whisper and then continues to grow louder into the wildest of crashing waterfalls. Sometimes it confronts us in a very direct way and other times it sneaks up on us spreading like a virus throughout society. It penetrates our lives and influences others around us. The beneficiaries are our day-to-day modern society that adopts them and adores them. The victors are the people and the companies who make them. In fact we can quantify the victors with the monetary term of billions of dollars.  Those who try to stand in the way of these cultural phenomena’s are simply pushed aside and deemed not relevant.  We deem these to be the companies we refer to as competition.  In the industry this is a big deal and though sometimes accidental many times it is brilliance, such as Steve Jobs.  In the end it is about creating emotional connections and  not negative emotions but positive ones.  Looking through history there have been some big moments (and winners).

The first I remember of this type of phenomena was the build up to the launch of Microsoft’s Windows 95.  It was funny at the time as the product was continually being delayed.  When the name was announced people even began to wonder if it would even ship in 1995.  But at the time Microsoft was the darling of the industry.  Even when it seemed destined to fail in the end it always seemed to succeed.  Windows 95 would turn out to be the greatest testament to the ability of the company to succeed.  When the product finally shipped it was to mass hysteria never seen in the industry.  People lined up at midnight waiting for doors to open to a new world of wonder. It brought the idea of technology into everyone’s home.  It was exciting and a fulfillment of a vision that Paul Allen and Bill gates had as young boys.  It was really the dawn of the new age of technology and every significant technology launch has been compared to the launch of Windows 95.  The main competition, Apple, could only sit, watch and wonder, “it should have been us”.

The second phenomena that occurred I did not become familiar with until, then CEO of Novel,l Eric Schmidt left his post and joined a small company known as Google.  Google was a search engine provider and certainly not the first, but it would turn out to be by far and away the most successful.  It was not long before it seemed everyone was searching the web with  Google, as it was far superior to what was on the market.  Google’s impact beyond the technology was it changed the market dynamics and how companies made money.  They were in many was also the first to demonstrate you can not only make money on the web, you can make tons of money on the web.  The growth of Google was so accelerated it was almost hard to comprehend.  While they are making all this money they also became part of our cultural linguistics as Google became a verb.  By the time Microsoft finally launched a technological viable competitor in Bing, they were no longer visible in Google’s rear view mirror

When the iPhone stated to be discussed the whispers started early and grew loud and clear.  I had a friend working at AT&T at the time and he said everything at the corporate office was driving towards the launch of the Apple iPhone.  When the iPhone launched in 2007  it would turn out to be a huge success on many fronts, from the device to the apps, creating a new market, a new ecosystem.  As time went by what was amazing to watch was the extremely personal relationship that would develop between people and their technology.  People really get addicted to these phones and it more or less becomes an extension of the individual.  One thing Apple was always great at was creating a product that fostered loyalty.  The iPhone would do this in spades.  So much changed with the iPhone in how we as a society interact with one another, the iPhone was a truly powerful technical and social breakthrough.

It is difficult for companies to compete against these type of movements in a direct head on manner.  Microsoft has more or less tried this with Bing against Google and not seen very good results.  The biggest challenge is not the market share but the cultural awareness they are up against.  It is not even a technology gap so much as the successful technologies of today are internalized by users, who purchase and use certain technologies without much thought.  It is as if they are predisposed to certain choices, they are conditioned . It is hard and I have yet to see a marketing plan that says with our latest release we need to brainwash society and condition them to use our stuff.  I would be most entertained if someone would try doing this as I think it would be an eventful exercise.  As we have learned over and over again just because you have the better technology does not mean that you win.  Part of the challenge when competing with these social titans is that it is not good enough to create a better technology because even if you do, you have to ask, “Now what?”.  You need not only a better product but a better vision.  Vision should proceed the product, not follow it.

I am waiting for the next phenomena and it may be just around the corner.  We are nearing the age of the robot and I am warily awaiting the device that becomes a consumer phenomena.  It may also be something not so dramatic.  It could be a new social networking innovation.  Perhaps Google Glass is bigger than we think or know?  All we know is software is becoming pervasive in nearly everything we touch.  As Bill Gates said, “It is where the magic happens”. Like all things in tech it is not predicting the future, but timing it.  For any company the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is to become a necessary fabric of society. To be wanted. A basic, necessary and powerful human emotion.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 29, 2013

Technology History Mistakes and Opportunities

In 20 years in the technology sector I have seen a lot of both good and bad strategic decisions. At Microsoft I was with a company that was on the good side and then was on the bad side. I saw many competitors make what were poor strategic decisions. Decisions that in the end would either sink them or put them in a place of constant struggle for success or viability.  I thought it would be good to look back on some of my favorite “stupid” decisions made by companies in the industry.

Lets head to Utah for bad decision number one: WordPerfect.  This was a company that when the personal computer first came onto the scene quickly became the number one player in Word Processing.  Competing against other notable companies like Wordstar, Wang, and Microsoft Word.  If one thing killed them off quickly it can be summed up in the acronym GUI (Graphical User Interface).  When Apple launched the Mac, Microsoft used it as an opportunity to learn about creating software for the GUI.  WordPerfect on the other hand dipped their toes in the water and when they did not see the sales they wanted on the Mac, killed it.  As Microsoft became more enamored with something called Windows, WordPerfect dug their heels in and supported DOS, where they were a leader.  The problem being Microsoft owned both DOS and Windows and had more or less stated Windows was the future.  Towards the end the only thing WordPerfect had going for it was free technical support.  Sounds nice from a  customer perspective, but if you looked at the costs, not sustainable.  WordPerfect over time just seemed to disappear.

Apple actually makes the list.  During the period where there was no Steve Jobs.  Early learning here is Steve Jobs killed  himself off when he hired Pepsi executive, John Sculley.  Steve’s pitch to John was, “Do you want to change the world or sell sugared water”.  As Steve learned people who sell sugared water don’t change the world.  However they are master politicians which led to Steve’s ouster.  Apple would go through several CEO’s  before Steve returned.  Some like, Micheal Spindler would start to pursue a OEM model where they license the software, like Microsoft.  A nice form of flattery, but not in the Apple DNA.  Steve would come back, kill this plan, and we know the rest.

Next up we return to Utah and Novell Netware.  When the computer network first became popular, Novell was the dominant player for our file and print services.  However one stupid decision killed the company.  Why just a file and print server and not a app server to?  I remember I was in a meeting with Bill Gates and he went off about why Novell did not do this.  He was stunned that they did not have the foresight to see what was coming in the industry. In his view had they just added application services, Windows Server would never have garnered the market share it did.  A second more technical item was Novell had a proprietary protocol called IPX/SPX.  They did not support the dominant internet standard called TCP/IP. Eric Schmidt, when he was at Novell worked on fixing this, but then this startup called Google came knocking and he left for greener pastures (much greener as it turned out). As I am sure you all know this internet thing became rather large and Novell played themselves out of the market.  Oops.

As we entered a new millennium things would change.  My old company, Microsoft, which seemed to do no wrong would make plenty of mistakes in the new century’s beginning.  They might say search was a big mistake, but as I have said they never would have figured it out.  Google developed a new software business model.  They did a classic Sun Tzu, when faced with greater numbers change the playing field.  Probably the first blunder was the mobile phone space.  Though they might say they were successful prior to the iPhone I never saw it that way.  THe Microsoft strategy was a smartphone was a business phone and they went head on after RIM.  I never saw it that way.  I saw smartphone’s just a natural evolution of mobile phones and as more intelligence was put in the phone, the smartphone would be a consumer phone.  Then the iPhone launched and that was the end of the Microsoft mobile story.  I know they have this Nokia thing going on, but as good as the phone is, everything I am reading is it is too late.

Going back to search the big loser was Yahoo.  Jerry Yang had a dotcom success story, but was really just pushed aside by a competitor with a better search engine and a better business model.  Google ate everybody up in this space.  They proved the age-old business adage, revenue is king.  It was not long before Yahoo was on the defensive in everything they did.  Google was the tech darling and Yahoo had fallen into the worst place in the industry:  Yesterdays News.  Even when they got a get out of jail free card in the form of a massive Microsoft takeover offer they blew it.  Jerry Yang managed to convince everyone they had a future.  With the recent news of a massive layoff and reorganization, all is but lost. Jerry Yang will be a case study in graduate school, and it will not be flattering.  It will be along the lines on increasing shareholder value.  But then Mr. Yang is an engineer not a finance guy.

Amazon was not a likely candidate to be the early leader in cloud computing.  Next thing you know everyone was left standing with their pants of the ground.  Some rode the wave very well, companies like VMWare.  But across the lake the from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters a  Redmond based power was scrambling.  Google was also behind in this space.  When I look at Cloud based posting these days I see many references for people with experience in Amazon Web Services.  I am not sure I have seen one for Azure (Microsoft’s cloud service). VMWare is always in the conversation with its virtualization software, it is always a good place to be, “in the conversation”.  Most companies building out cloud services usually have either Amazon or VMWare, if not both, as part of their cloud offering

Finally there was the tablet phenom.  When Apple founder Steve Jobs announced Apples plans to make and sell the iPad, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was quoted as saying, “They will never sell those things”.  As it turns out they can sell those tablets.  In the last quarter they sold over 15 million of these items Steve said they could not sell.  In the meantime a slew of Android based tablets have hit the market and as for Microsoft, we wait for Windows 8.  Why do I feel like this will be the Windows Phone all over again?  When the new tablets hit the market will it be revolutionary or just another Tablet?  The market is already 3 years down the road and the company that changed people’s lives sitting on the couch and watching TV was Apple.  That is what technology has always been about, changing people’s lives.

In all the examples I have given one thing is clear.  To create these industry and societal changes it takes a leader who see’s beyond today and looks to tomorrow.  When we look at what I provided in each case we have visionaries that we all know Gates, Jobs, Bezos, Maritz, to name but a few.  In the also ran category you see companies always flat-footed and never embracing the future, but reacting to a race that has already began.  If you are racing Usain Bolt and you are slow off the starting blocks do you think you will win?  Even if you were that fast and physically fit you cannot make up a half a second in a sprint.  That is how today’s tech sector works.  Even if you were to catch up the industry has moved on to a new race.  To win you need to jump the gun otherwise you will be but a  distant reflection in the rear view mirror.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 9, 2012

Dear Tim Cook – Learn from Steve Ballmer

Dear Mr. Cook

I am sure you are settling into your new role as Apple CEO, wondering how do you succeed a legend? I can only imagine it is a daunting task. Speaking from experience though I can say I have witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly of what can happen.  I was at Microsoft when Bill Gates decided to step down as CEO of Microsoft and handed over the reigns to his self-appointed successor, Steve Ballmer.  At the time things seemed to go so swimmingly as it was never in question who would be the successor to Steve Ballmer.  Things have worked out far differently than those of us who were around would have predicted.

I have been a witness to greatness as I had the opportunity to listen to BillG speak many times.  His ideas and vision for Microsoft and the industry always so crystal clear. As if they had been freely floating around in his mind since the day he was born. As change took place in the industry, Bill always seemed  to understand it, to grasp it and to be ahead of it.  This is not much different then Bill’s chief competitor for the top spot in tech history, your former boss Steve Jobs.  Steve seemed to understand the impact technology could have on day-to-day life and what it emotionally meant to people, and most importantly how to get there.  But these chapters are now closing and it’s time for your chapter, but let’s hope it is better than Steve’s.

When SteveB took over from Bill he was the golden boy.  He was much revered and loved in the field sales force.  Many of us considered him one of us.  Unlike you he even had the benefit that Bill would hang around for a while as Chief Software Architect.  And for a while things seemed to look like they would work out ok, or so we thought.  He was being given the opportunity to lead the future, not just of the industry but of a company that had made changes in the world, in the way we live..  But cracks in the armor were starting to show.  And that is my first bit of advice to you which is old advice, big things start small.  Both the positive and the negative.  We started to see some of the tech guru’s leave the company, most notably Paul Maritz.  Even though I revere BillG he had a circle of people around him that was his think tank. People he could turn to and have those deep discussions on the state of the industry and where it was headed.  Today I don’t know who Steve listens to these days for advice and guidance, but he has become an increasingly isolated figure.

Point two, remember the core of who you are and what makes you great.  It’s easy to look at others success and think it may be a good idea to emulate, but don’t do it at the cost of what got you to where you are.  As Microsoft grew managing growth became a paramount obsession for Steve,  He really fell under the guise of Jack Welch and the GE model, trying to apply those ideas to Microsoft.  The problem was that though it worked for GE that does not necessarily mean it was a good fit for Microsoft.  Over time the passion that was so core to Microsoft seems to have dissipated and been replaced by big corporate politics from the top to the bottom.  It has created an environment where people are more interested or fearful in doing the politically wrong things versus doing what’s right for the company.

Point three is drive the industry and don’t let it drive you.  This to me was a direct result of point two.  When I first started at Microsoft, the idea of standards and specifications were something that Microsoft was directly involved in and trying to drive a major influence in bending them to what Microsoft saw as the right direction for the industry.  It was important that Microsoft be viewed in the lead on technology.  As new start-ups and technologies have come forward Microsoft has chased these new opportunities, thinking they could catch up like they did in the past and taking their eyes off the core standards.  A case in point was HTML5.  While Microsoft was pursuing Adobe with their Silverlight Player and Smooth Streaming, Apple rightly saw that the right thing to do was support the new standards being developed for playing media files, HTML5.  Thus causing Microsoft to do yet another about-face.  This type of mistake can be blamed on product groups, but ultimately these type of visions start at the top.  Which is why your mentor was on record as saying the future is HTML5, Microsoft has seemed to stutter and fail with each new change in the industry and ultimately be viewed as a laggard.

Microsoft back in the day was always fearful of falling prey to a company that was smaller and hungrier than they were, Steve was certainly involved in a lot of those discussions.  It was an obsession of  the executive teams. However today that does seem to be exactly what is happening to them.  It has everything to do with that they forgot all about those fears and took their eye off the globe shaped ball predicting the future.  Nothing has changed in the industry.  This remains an industry where small start-ups innovate and create the next generation shifts in the technology industry.  You and I have both seen companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Flickr, Pandora, Linkedin, Dropbox etc. emerge within the last 10 years.  Some of these will grow very large and some already have, some will fail.  The only guarantee is that there are more to come, so pay close attention to who they are and where that are taking the market place.  And most importantly capitalize on it.

In conclusion Mr. Cook you have been granted an exciting challenge and opportunity at what today is the most admired company in tech.  The pipeline is solid for product delivery over the next five years.  Be true to who you are, but more importantly be true to who Apple is.  I don’t want to see you become a Steve Ballmer,  it has been painful to watch.  At the same time as I have outlined there is a lot you can learn.  The one guarantee I can make to you is history always repeats itself, but you do not need to be the one to repeat it.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann  September 7, 2011

Steve Jobs moving on

It was not a stunning announcement but it still surprised us all when it happened. Steve Jobs was resigning as CEO of Apple. Unlike his peer, Bill Gates, not by choice, but because his health had deteriorated to a point he could no longer continue as leader of one of America’s most admired companies.  It’s hard to measure the impact Steve Jobs has had not just on technology but on popular culture.  It’s has been a journey of a young brilliant arrogant man to the top of the pack as one of the most admired and respected leader’s in the industry today.  During that time we saw a transformation from youth to mature dignitary.  He has been the an ultimate leader in technical discipline and a  marketing mega star.

When I started in the industry, back in 1991 Steve Jobs was a legendary lost soul, having been booted from the very company he helped create.  Apple at the time was led by former Pepsi exec John Sculley, while Steve was working on something called NeXT.  I did not have much insight into Steve Jobs at this point until I was part of the account team at ATT Wireless.  I worked with a partner, Accenture at the time, and we were all trying to bid on the call center business.  We needed to replace their existing system built on…NeXT.  Who used NeXT?  It was hard to believe, but according to my counterpart from Accenture, who was in the room, when it was pitched to ATT Wireless it was the single best sales job he had ever seen, delivered by none other than Steve Jobs.  Everything I ever heard about Steve Jobs always spoke to the power of his personality and when he was in a room you knew it, he was not to be ignored.  It was a force of will.

By the time I was covering ATT Wireless and heard the legendary stories, Steve had already returned to Apple.  It was one of those announcements that I am sure for anyone who loved Apple or worked for Apple was greeted with a sense of joy and relief.  Apple at the time was a company in the wilderness.  Losing market share and ceasing to do anything innovative.  It was funny early on that the first release under Steve Job’s direction was the iMac which really only introduced one things of note..lot’s of colors.  Up until then you could have any color that you wanted as long as it was beige.  I think this little fact goes unnoticed but whether by accident or design the introduction of color was important as it was recognized that the personal computer was becoming  more than just a productivity device, it was becoming a lifestyle device.  From there on the history is easy to follow as music went digital.  The web went mobile.  The PC became entertainment. All starting with a little “i” as went from iPod to iPhone to iPad.  All the time the attention to technical superiority and integrating that with the desire to be free and human.  The panache that was the computer geek gave way to the individual, regardless of the technical level of ability.  It was and remains the realization of the way technology is meant to be.

What will happen now that Steve Jobs is transitioning away from Apple. will Apple remain the same?  First the pipeline of innovation is strong with iPhone, iPad and iTV.  Not to mention the traditional sales of the iMac, Air, MacBoox etc…seems to be flourishing.  Every time I got to Starbucks I estimate that half of the laptops have the familiar Apple logo glaring at me.  I predict that in the not so distant future you could see Apple break the 10% mark in total market share for personal computers, which would be huge considering the decades it has been less than ten percent. computers.  Then there is the question of leadership, with the reigns being handed to COO Tim Cook.  In an odd way Steve’s illness has made this transition easier as Mr.  Cook has been running the company at various times while Steve took a leave of absence.  I think they are in good hands, with an experienced leader who has been very close to Steve Jobs over the last ten years, who knows the Apple culture.

As long a s Apple does not get to arrogant and continues to listen to consumers and be innovative they will move on and up just fine.  The reality is most people like Apple.  It will be a company that can reflect upon one of the great business leaders of the last hundred years and will have a legacy to move forward with.  As for Steve Jobs we can only hope for the best, though the announcement seemed to be an indicator that he is gravely ill with not much time.  He had a liver transplant which is never an easy thing to go through or a treatment with a “longer life span” as an option.  It simply buys one time, which he has made good use of.  STeve Jobs is moving to a different place in life’s long road, but many of those places on the road, he defined.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann August 30, 2011