I was reading through another retrospective article on the Ballmer years at Microsoft.
This quote from Steve Jobs jumped out at me:
I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesmen, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company. John Akers at IBM was a smart, eloquent, fantastic salesperson, but he didn’t know anything about product. The same thing happened at Xerox. When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don’t matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off. It happened at Apple when Sculley came in, which was my fault, and it happened when Ballmer took over at Microsoft. Apple was lucky and it rebounded, but I don’t think anything will change at Microsoft as long as Ballmer is running it.
I think that Steve Jobs had earned the right to have an opinion on this subject, and his opinion seems to match with the reality of a lot of tech companies. The initial success of tech companies is built on innovation. Over time, the success spawns a huge management infrastructure. In many cases, the management infrastructure ends up suffocating the innovation, and the company dies.
This is not to say that management is bad, or unimportant, or that companies should simply pursue impractical ideas with no thought to business realities. But if a company becomes so focused on MBA concerns that they Ignore PhD concerns, they have begun the process of dying. If you’re in the innovation business and you’re not innovating, you’re doomed.