Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has taken his lumps over Microsoft’s $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype. One widely-read recent essay, The Ballmer Days Are Over,” the slant of which can be inferred from its title, takes the Skype deal as evidence that Ballmer is the un-techy, unimaginative, hidebound CEO that his detractors have accused him of being all along. In advocating for Ballmer’s replacement, author Ben Brooks writes: “Any new CEO should love technology and that will begin to show at Microsoft like it did when Gates was still at the helm if the right person is hired. Ballmer seems to care more about being the biggest thing on the market instead of the products his company creates.”
Time will tell whether Brooks’ read on Ballmer’s tenure as Microsoft CEO is correct, but as applied to the Skype deal, it’s confounded by one newly revealed fact: Bill Gates himself strongly pushed for Microsoft to acquire Skype, Gates revealed in a recent BBC interview.
“I was a strong proponent at the board level for the deal being done … I think it’s a great, great deal for Skype … I think it’s a great deal for Microsoft.”
“The idea of video conferencing is going to get so much better than it is today. Skype actually does get a fair bit of revenue,” said Mr Gates.
“It’ll be fascinating to see how the brilliant ideas out of Microsoft research, coming together with Skype, what they can make of that.”
One would hope that Gates — still the largest Microsoft shareholder — would be on board with the largest-ever acquisition by the company that he founded. Given Gates’ less public role with relation to Microsoft in recent years as he has transitioned from business to philanthropy, his release of this news to the press is no doubt strategic and intentional, meant to blunt the criticism of Ballmer and to shore up public and investor confidence in the deal. Gates’ seal of approval does not magically transmute the deal into a good one — in the long run, that will require it making Microsoft more money than it cost it, and giving Microsoft a strategic advantage over its competitors — in the short run, Gates’ vote of confidence could have a material impact.
The full interview will appear on BBC World News on Wednesday, May 18th at 8:30am EST.