It’s fairly old news now that Kevin Johnson, the former President of the Microsoft platforms division – basically, Jim Allchin’s replacement – left MIcrosoft to be CEO of Juniper Networks. This post was one my favorites on the subject. I also like the comment I read somewhere that, compared to Johnson’s old job, Juniper might as well be Jupiter. I happen to disagree with that, but it’s clever.
Early in his tenure as President at Microsoft, Johnson made a comment that really struck me. A concern shared among a lot of conscientious folks on the Windows engineering team, myself included, was that the team was too big for its own good. This was before codename-Longhorn became Vista and that whole mess, a devolution that proved our concern valid like nothing else could have.
Anyway, at the time, Johnson said something to the effect that he agreed, and that he felt it would be wise to reassign engineers to other projects. It was a candid comment for someone at his level. An over-simplification of a complex problem, of course. Nevertheless, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, this guy really knows what’s going on in the trenches.”
In retrospect, the Windows team, like most of those behind products that are successful in the market, seems to only grow. And the other problem – the Windows release cadence – doesn’t seem to be improving either.
The impression is therefore that KJ made an initial splash, but not much after that. He did well enough to earn a mid-sized CEO gig: probably less than he was dreaming about, but still not bad.
One more thing: some commenters have suggested that he left because the failed Yahoo bid meant he wasn’t getting Ballmer’s job. The situation is more complex than that.
On one hand, much to the chagrin of Microsoft’s shareholders, Ballmer wasn’t fired by the board after just a year or two. It was thus obvious that his successor, whoever it was going to be, was going to have a long wait. Performance apparently isn’t a factor in keeping the top job.
On the other hand, at this point, Ballmer’s open-ended stay is also secured by the fact that there aren’t stronger candidates waiting in the wings. If it was going to be KJ, too much of his reputation was staked on Yahoo. And the other potential future CEO, Eric Rudder, isn’t prepared yet.