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微软收购Netflix的理由

Kevin Kelleher 2011年06月10日

无论从哪个角度上看,并购诺基亚都行不通。因此,收购Netflix不仅可能成为微软应对苹果iCloud举措的重中之重,而且还能为鲍尔默觅得一位精明的联合首席执行官。

    史蒂夫•鲍尔默真可怜。他执掌的这家传奇性的公司曾是计算机时代最成功的公司,如今却面临着品牌日益畏缩,股票不断贬值的窘境,其股票的交易已经回落到1998年的水平。股东们对他的不满日益加深。不仅愤怒的对冲基金经理们对他口诛笔伐,就连公司普通员工对他的支持率也在直线下降。要知道,他们中许多人手中也持有微软(Microsoft)的股票和期权。

    当然,这并不是什么新闻。一年前,微软的股东们就大声疾呼,要求公司创始人兼董事会主席比尔•盖茨效仿史蒂夫•乔布斯,重返公司,扭转乾坤,让微软重新成为IT业的中心。别人指着你最大的竞争对手对你说,你得好好跟他学,这种滋味简直糟透了。如果此时恰逢这个对手的市值平生头一回超越你,那就更糟糕了。

    2000年1月,盖茨将首席执行官的头衔交给鲍尔默。他对于隐退时机的选择可谓尽显老练。此后,盖茨继续担任公司的首席软件架构师,直到2008年。之后,他就不再担任全职工作,但留任公司非执行董事会主席。自那时起,微软的股票下降了12%,而纳斯达克(NASDAQ)指数却上涨了20%。尽管投资者及其他人希望盖茨重返公司的要求也在情理之中,但也不过是痴人说梦罢了。虽说如果微软股票价格上涨,盖茨个人的净值也会因此受益,但其中的绝大部分还是会用于他的慈善事业——盖茨基金会(Gates Foundation)。

    即便盖茨现在重返微软也回天乏术。原因有二:首先,他不是史蒂夫•乔布斯。乔布斯需要苹果公司(Apple),因为苹果为他提供了一个绝佳的机会,使他能够实现自己上世纪80年代是对个人计算机的设想,同时,他拥有将这个愿景变为现实的能力。相形之下,盖茨的长项在于以残酷无情的方式将本处于劣势的操作系统变成行业标准。在个人计算机发展的初期,这也许是取得成功的唯一途径,但却与眼下云计算演进的方式背道而驰。

    其次,微软并未面临破产。上个财年,其营业收入增长了12%,净利润增长了28%。与之前各代视窗操作系统相比, Windows 7改进可谓巨大;同样,Windows Phone 7在智能手机操作系统领域内的竞争力也不可小视。此外,尽管谷歌公司(Google)推出了同类免费应用程序,但并不妨碍Office套装软件继续畅销。而且,凭借Xbox和Kinect,微软已经一跃成为游戏领域的领头羊,同时也成为数字视频领域的潜在领导者。

    问题是尽管微软火力全开,但是其优异的表现并没有反映在股票价值上。许多公司在云计算时代已经不再关注PC软件,但是鲍尔默却能继续靠他赚取巨额利润。如今云计算俨然已是整个IT业关注的焦点,但鲍尔默却并不擅长发现新的增长点。因此,如果要解决微软眼下面临的难题,要做的不是罢免鲍尔默,而是增加一名联合首席执行官。

    在腹背受敌,竞争激烈的市场环境中,鲍尔默负责打理微软这个IT巨头的日常运营。作为首席运营官,他的表现无懈可击。然而,他缺乏远见,看不清技术和市场演进的方式。盖茨在位时,曾经恰到好处地平衡了,此后的几年,雷•奥齐扮演了这个角色。但是,微软的企业文化过于墨守成规,它需要的是一名具有远见卓识的领导人,此人必须固执己见,同时又具有优秀首席执行官应有的职业履历。

    谁是符合条件的人选呢?有些人虽然在讨论之列,但微软董事会对此大概已经胸有成竹。里德•哈斯亭斯带领Netflix一路走来,拒绝妥协,克服重重困难,使公司跻身于云计算领域最重要的竞争者之列,市值升至140亿美元。微软手里有500亿美元的闲置资金,它可以先买下Netflix,如果愿意,它仍然有足够的资金再去收购诺基亚(Nokia)。

    一旦收购Netflix,任命哈斯亭斯为联合首席执行官,微软便能重新成为IT业万众瞩目的中心。Xbox正在从游戏机向主流互联网电视设备过渡,Netflix可以加速这一过程。对于那些考虑用Windows Phone 7作为操作系统平台的移动运营商来说,Netflix在平板电脑拟真应用开发领域内的成功无疑将进一步激发他们的兴趣。微软投资Facebook,亦可助Netflix一臂之力,使之在该社交网络占有重要的一席之地。而且,哈斯亭斯对基于云计算领域内的机遇与困难有着深刻的理解,因而能专注于推动微软走向未来;而鲍尔默则可以继续打理传统的PC软件业务。

    可以想见,如果微软果真走这一步棋,Netflix客户可能会寝食难安,他们也许会担心Netflix将在微软按部就班的企业文化中迷失自我。但是,最近数月,微软股东们面临的问题是,找出一个最佳方案,扭转公司股票的颓势。问题的答案不是比尔•盖茨重返公司,而是收购Netflix,同时让鲍尔默和哈斯亭斯共同执掌微软。

    译者:大海

    Poor Steve Ballmer. Standing at the helm of one of the computer age's biggest success stories while its brand withers and its stock languishes at the same level it traded at in 1998. Shareholders are increasingly unhappy with him. Not only are angry hedge fund managers calling for his head,his approval rating among his own rank and file -- many of them owning Microsoft shares and options -- is sinking like a rock.

    This isn't new, of course. A year ago, Microsoft (MSFT) shareholders were clamoring for founder and Chairman Bill Gates, asking him to pull a Steve Jobs and return to the company to steer it back into the center of the tech world. It's bad enough having people pointing to your arch rival and suggesting it as a good role model for you. It's even worse when it happens as your arch rival surpasses you in market value for the first time ever.

    Gates handed over the title of CEO to Ballmer in January 2000, displaying a knack for the well-timed exit. He stayed on as chief software architect until July 2008, leaving his full-time job but remaining as non-executive chairman. Since then, Microsoft's stock has fallen 12% as the NASDAQ rose 20%. It's tempting for investors and others to want Gates to return, but it's just fantasy. Although Gates' net worth would benefit from a rise in Microsoft's stock, he's committed most of it to his charity, the Gates Foundation.

    There are two bigger reasons why Gates running Microsoft now wouldn't work. First, he's not Steve Jobs. Jobs needed Apple (AAPL) -- it was his best chance to achieve the vision for personal computing he had in the 1980s -- and his talent lay in making that vision real. Gates's skill lay in making an inferior operating software the industry standard through brute force. That may have been necessary in the adolescent years of PCs, but it's antithetical to the way cloud computing is developing.

    The second reason is that Microsoft simply isn't broken. Its revenue rose 12% in its last fiscal year and its net profit rose 28%. Windows 7 is a vast improvement over previous incarnations of the operating software, just as Windows Phone 7 is a viable competitor in smartphones. The Office suite of software continues to sell well, despite Google's (GOOG) free apps. And the Xbox and Kinect have made Microsoft a leader in gaming, and a potential leader in digital video.

    The problem isn't that Microsoft isn't firing on all cylinders, it's that this performance isn't reflected in the stock's price. Ballmer is succeeding at wringing profits from PC software that many had written off in the age of cloud computing. But he's not very good at finding new sources of growth as cloud computing takes center stage. Which is why the answer to Microsoft's problems isn't firing Ballmer, but in bringing on a co-CEO.

    Ballmer is the consummate chief operating officer, overseeing the day-to-day operations of a tech giant facing tough competition on many fronts. He is not a visionary, he's blind to the ways that technology and markets are evolving. Gates served as a good counterbalance, then Ray Ozzie tried to fill that role for a few years. But Microsoft's culture is so entrenched that it needs a visionary with a stubborn streak and a track record of success as a CEO.

    Who could fill this role? Some names have been tossed around, but the best answer may be sitting on Microsoft's own board. Reed Hastings has shepherded Netflix (NFLX) to a $14 billion market value, defying odds and overcoming obstacles to make Netflix a key player in cloud-based content. Microsoft has $50 billion in cash lying around, so it could buy Netflix and still have plenty enough left to buy Nokia (NOK) if it wanted.

    Buying Netflix and installing Hastings as co-CEO would position Microsoft to return to the center of the tech industry. Netflix could speed the Xbox' transition from a gaming console to a mainstream device connecting TVs to the Internet. Its success in creating a popular, immersive app for tablets could strengthen the appeal of mobile carriers considering Windows Phone 7 as a platform. Microsoft's investment in Facebook could help Netflix find a strong presence in that social network. And Hastings, who has a deep understanding about the opportunities and obstacles facing cloud-based content, could focus on pushing Microsoft into the future while Ballmer oversees the traditional PC-software businesses.

    Of course, the move might distress Netflix customers, who would fear the company getting lost inside Microsoft's rigid corporate culture. But the question facing Microsoft shareholders in recent months is, what is the best way for the company to turn the stock price around? The answer to that question isn't Bill Gates returning. It's Microsoft buying Netflix and Ballmer sharing the CEO spot with Hastings.

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