John Thompson, Microsoft’s new board chairman, believes the company culture needs to change, especially in response to the declining role of Windows in computing.
“I would argue that there are some attributes to Microsoft today that do look vaguely like IBM circa 1990,” Thompson said in an interview with Fortune magazine. “The Windows monopoly is in fact under attack, and therefore we’re going to have to change or think differently about the management systems and the associated culture of the company as time goes on.”
Not that any culture change is likely to happen quickly. “You don’t change a company’s culture overnight. It’s more about the subtle influences and the consistency and predictability of those influences that over time drives that subtle behavior change that we call culture,” Thompson said in the interview.
Thompson likened the situation to when IBM realized its monopoly had run out and that the company would have to compete with more agile companies. Lou Gerstner, who became IBM CEO in 1993, brought about the needed change in culture and pace, Thompson said.
Thompson became chairman of Microsoft’s board earlier this month after Bill Gates stepped down from the role to become technology advisor to newly appointed CEO Satya Nadella.
Nadella was named Microsoft CEO on Feb. 4, about six months after former CEO Steve Ballmer announced that he would be retiring.
Thompson had some choice words, too, about Microsoft’s extended search for a CEO — he headed the search committee — and how public it became. A number of high-profile candidates, including Ford CEO Alan Mulally, Qualcomm CEO-elect Steve Mollenkopf and Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg, as well as dark-horse candidates, were reportedly on the short list.
“Candidly, I would have to say a very large percentage of the stuff that got written was just stuff,” Thompson said in the Fortune interview. “As stories evolved or emerged or ebbed and flowed I never really expected to have — for it to have the public profile that it did — and I certainly never myself expected to have the public profile that I did. … Somehow the world got this view that I was bigger than life. I was doing my job just like the other directors who were a part of the committee. Yes, I was the chairman of the committee, but the characterization of me as this, you know, person who had this flame being fanned to create this pervasive view of who I was and what I was doing and all that, that’s just not true.”