Ballmer didn't want empire builders, he wanted tight integration, collaboration

Steven Sinofksy is viewed by many analysts as a Jobsian sort of figure.  Recently driven out of Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) for allegedly not being a "team player", he nonetheless masterminded the fast-selling operating system in Microsoft's history -- Windows 7 -- as well as perhaps its most ambitious reimagination -- Windows 8.  And he slashed layers of bureaucracy, in many cases cutting the number of employees between the lowest layer engineer up the ladder to the highest manager to around 4 or 5, versus around 7 before.

I. Lack of Team Play Let to Steve Sinofsky's Ouster

But Mr. Sinofsky's strict expectations and dictatorial approach to slashing bloat at the software giant rubbed many colleagues the wrong way.  And much like another Steve Jobs-like figure -- Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) Scott Forstall -- he was eventually driven out.  Both men were once considered candidates to become CEO at their respective firms.

But it appears that increasingly companies are placing "being a team player" over pure success.

While Mr. Sinofsky did strip away bureaucracy, it sounds like he may have had trouble working with other units in the multi-piece Microsoft empire.  A source tells Reuters, "What I'm hearing over and over is collaboration and horizontal integration is the new mantra.  They (top management) understand that, if they don't move to a model where devices and software are more integrated across the entire Microsoft system, they are in a weak position."

Steven Sinofksy
Steven Sinofsky wasn't allegedly interested in working with other Microsoft units, instead trying to consolidate power to his own Windows unit. [Image Source: Extremetech]

Indeed many of the dramatic moves Mr. Sinofsky made with Windows 8, while potentially highly beneficial from a consumer perspective gave enterprise users -- and likely Microsoft's own Server and Tools Business division -- fits.

Brad Silverberg, a former Windows division chief, says that he expects big overhauls at the company in coming months as Mr. Sinofsky's allies jump ship and Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer moves to more tightly integrate the units.  He comments, "I certainly expect the org chart to look a lot different six months from now.  There will be attrition from Steven's (Sinofsky's) people and Steve Ballmer will have a chance to create a more harmonious organization."

II. Apple and Microsoft Both Kick Out Once Bright Stars

Many analysts and managers within the company viewed Mr. Sinofsky's actions during his 23-year run with the company as empire building.  Comments Mr. Silverberg, "Steven is a brilliant guy who made tremendous contributions to Microsoft.  But he was also a polarizing guy and the antibodies ultimately caught up with him."

An unnamed Windows unit manager recalls, "Sinofsky really centralized all the power under himself. We'll see how it shakes out from here."

And another ex-Microsoft employee who now works in the financial sector comments, "If you work in Steven's team, you love him.  If he's outside of your team? That's where his reputation of being hard to work with came from."

The situation is remarkably similar to the Scott Forstall scenario at Apple.  Mr. Forstall was notorious for looking to outshine and openly compete with other units at Apple.  He famously would admonish his co-SVPs commenting, "Steve wouldn't do that."

Scott Forstall
Scott Forstall, suffered a remarkably similar fate to Mr. Sinofsky [Source: Fast Company]

But in the end the pair of top hardware-software firms decided to expel Scott and Steve.

To be fair the much-discussed team player aspect was only part of the picture; Windows 8 while doing modestly in pre-sales was heavily criticized by some and was not expected to match Windows 7 in sales.  Meanwhile, at Apple Scott Forstall had carried out the launch of iOS 6, which ran amok with errors -- most notably a laughably bad Maps app.  Reportedly Apple had given Mr. Forstall the opportunity to swallow his pride and sign an apology letter to customers.  

Mr. Forstall refused, and was shown the door.  Instead CEO Tim Cook took up the mantle of saying he was sorry for the mess to Apple's loyal fans.

In both cases the message seemed clear -- neither company wanted a stubborn, egotistic empire builder -- even if they happened to be brilliant and effective.  In other words, neither company was interested in elevating the next potential Steve Jobs.

While many will feel that Apple and Microsoft made the right decision, both companies will likely be heavily scrutinized; particularly if savvy, agile rivals such as Google Inc. (GOOG) or Oracle Corp. (ORCL) scoop up the castoffs.

Source: Reuters

"It seems as though my state-funded math degree has failed me. Let the lashings commence." -- DailyTech Editor-in-Chief Kristopher Kubicki

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