Should Microsoft's first call be to Mark Hurd?
Early Friday, Microsoft announced that Steve Ballmer would step down as CEO within the next 12 months, once the company chooses his successor. “There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” Ballmer said in a statement.
Some Microsoft shareholders might argue that the right time was years ago, when Ballmer did little to spark growth at the software giant. But choosing a successor shouldn't take long. There is an ideal candidate south of Redmond who seems to fit the bill for what Microsoft needs: Mark Hurd.
Hurd, now co-president at Oracle Corp., would be a controversial choice. He resigned as head of Hewlett-Packard amid allegations of improprieties, both financial and personal. But much of Silicon Valley thinks he got a bad break, and he is the best CEO not now serving anywhere as a CEO.
Hurd's style and strategy would serve Microsoft well:
1. He has a proven track record.
Hurd revived H-P after the dismal tenure of Carly Fiorina. He set that organization on the right path. He found a way to make the rocky acquisition of Compaq into a net positive for H-P. The company was struggling before he got there, and has struggled since he left. That alone should tell you the kind of leadership he provides.
2. He is a transformational leader.
Remember, Microsoft wants to be a devices and services company. It is already in the process of trying to transform, but an outsider like Hurd can get the culture on board more easily simply through force of will. He did it at NCR. He did it at H-P. He is in the process of transforming the culture at Oracle.
3. He is respected by industry leadership.
Larry Ellison is hard to please, but he loves Mark Hurd. “The H-P board just made the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago,” Ellison wrote in a letter to The New York Times when Hurd was let go. He snapped up Hurd quickly as a co-president.
Even Steve Jobs thought Hurd was a great CEO. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Jobs “pleaded with Hurd to do whatever it took to set things right with the board so that Hurd could return. Jobs even offered to write a letter to HP's directors and to call them up one by one.”
4. His ouster from H-P was because of that board's dysfunction, not his own failings.
Yes, he was accused of violating the company's sexual-harassment policies. But, after a full investigation, he was cleared. Instead, the board fired him over questionable financial moves even though the directors knew Hurd himself didn't file his own expense reports and he offered to reimburse the company for any of the disputed funds.
Ellison summed up the board's decision in his Times letter: “In losing Mark Hurd, the H-P board failed to act in the best interest of H-P’s employees, shareholders, customers and partners.”
5. Hurd knows Microsoft and Microsoft knows Hurd.
Just this summer, Hurd and Ballmer struck a deal for a cloud-computing partnership. The two also made alliances before. As a result, Hurd has been involved as an outsider in helping Ballmer's efforts to remake Microsoft. That makes for a shorter learning curve to make meaningful changes.
6. Hurd might actually take the job.
In the drama over who would take over Dell, Carl Icahn floated the idea of bringing in Mark Hurd to run the company. Hurd said he wasn't interested, saying "I'm at Oracle, and that's what I'm doing.” But being CEO of Microsoft is a much higher-profile job than running Dell.
That might be enough to coax Mark Hurd north to Washington State. Of course, Microsoft has to make the call to him first.