It appears that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will bring an NBA franchise back to Seattle, as a leader of a Seattle investment group. If he can do that, why can't he bring Microsoft out of its doldrums?
A number of sources say that a Seattle investment group headed by Ballmer and investor Chris Hansen will be buying the NBA's Sacramento Kings, and bringing them to Seattle. The Seattle Times, ESPN, and GeekWire are just a few of the sources claiming reporting that.
The deal is not yet finished. The NBA Board of Directors needs to sign off on it in April. But Yahoo! Sports reports that the board "wants a team back in the Seattle market and will approve the sale at the next league meeting."
If that's true, kudos to Ballmer. So if he can wrangle that, why can't he find a way to help Microsoft get out of the doldrums that have kept the company's stock price generally in the $30-and-under range since 2003? Why can he figure out how to get Microsoft to break into the great growth drivers -- smartphones and tablets?
The answer, I think, is relatively straightforward. He's not an engineer or designer who lives and breathes products. Why did Apple return from the dead and become immensely profitable and worth more than Microsoft? Because Steve Jobs, who cared more about product design than he did about anything else on the planet, returned to the company helm. Why has Google thrived? Because for its entire life it's been headed by engineers, Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, and Sergey Brin. Why has Facebook come to dominate social networking? Because it's headed by an engineer, Mark Zuckerberg.
Steve Ballmer is certainly a smart guy and a consummate saleman. But in today's tech world, being a salesman or a marketer isn't enough. Salesmen and marketers sell what already exists. But what already exists isn't what creates new markets or helps you break into tough existing ones. It's creating innovative new products that does that. And Ballmer, unlike his counterparts at Apple, Google, and Facebook, doesn't have the instinct or background to create truly new, innovative products. That's why he might be able to bring an NBA franchise to Seattle, but can't seem to get Microsoft back on the fast track.