While speaking yesterday at the Ira Sohn Investment Conference, Geenlight hedge fund manager David Einhorn called for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to step down as head of the software juggernaut. Einhorn, whose fund currently holds 9 million shares of Microsoft (0.11%), says that Microsoft stock is greatly under valued as a result of Ballmer’s continued leadership calling his presence, “the biggest overhang on Microsoft’s stock.”
Criticism of Ballmer has sprung from Microsoft’s apparent inability to stay on top of the explosion of the mobile market and the rise of web searching, areas which have been dominated by Apple and Google respectively. In his speech, Einhorn said that worse than failing to lead in these new areas was the money spent trying to catch up to them — the Zune and Bing spring to mind — calling it “Charlie Brown Management.”
Einhorn’s words carry a lot of weight, as he is often credited with warning about and profiting from Lehman Brother’s collapse in 2008. But those who have watched Microsoft over the past ten years should not be surprised by the criticism. Over the past decade, Microsoft has become synonymous with slow adaptation, and resting on the laurels of their PC domination from the 1990s. With sheer persistance they were able to turn the XBox into a winner, but have let other once-popular products languish (Internet Explorer, anyone?) and have had a run of bad luck with operating system releases since XP.
Ousting Ballmer might change all that, but the only certainty is that losing Ballmer would mean an end to the expressive images used by blogs in posts about Microsoft. Perish the thought!