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为何微软内部人认为公司最高管理层已“迷路”

Gary Rivlin 2011年04月06日

由于史蒂夫•鲍尔默墨守陈规,死抱Windows和Office不放,这两块业务已成了微软的摇钱树。但是,也有人表示,微软是以牺牲创新为代价,才获得巨额营业收入。

在位于雷德蒙德的微软工业园区,下午5点钟,堵车便开始了。

    微软(Microsoft)到底怎么了?我花了数周时间追踪并采访一大批前微软员工,其中许多人都是效力于该公司长达15年以上的资深业内人士。现在的问题是,你愿意花多少时间,听我告诉你上述问题的答案。

    科瑞•索尔卡自1992年~2009年间一直效力于微软。索尔卡提到了美国司法部针对微软的反托拉斯之战。微软当时决定反击美国司法部的指控,拒绝庭外和解。事情从此开始发生了变化。索尔卡还提到,苹果公司(Apple)在其“我是Mac,你是个人计算机(PC)”的广告宣传中嘲笑微软时,同事们均备感屈辱。然而多年来,微软默默地忍受这些,几乎从不予以还击。

    “如果换在上世纪90年代,微软做此反应,简直令人难以置信。”索尔卡表示。在他眼里,微软“与以前相比,已变得小心翼翼”。

    菲利浦•苏在跳槽到Facebook之前,曾效力于微软12年。他认为,微软丧失原有魅力的根本原因在于,公司员工缺乏进取心。苏还记得,上世纪90年代后期,他在办公室的地板上用睡袋打地铺的情形,彼时微软仍是华尔街的一个传奇。苏表示,而目下的现实是,在雷德蒙德的微软工业园区,每天下午5点,交通阻塞就开始了。

    这也是为何微软股票不再像以前一样,每1年半便进行一次拆股的原因所在。过去七八年里,微软股价始终徘徊在25美元。这一现象背后的事实是,与过去相比,员工们几乎都赶在一个时间,趋之若鹜地逃离办公室。

    “一旦辛勤工作与个人收入和其他奖励脱钩,”苏表示:“人们很难再像从前那样努力工作了。”

    不少前微软员工都将责任归咎于公司首席执行官史蒂夫•鲍尔默。他们又怎么可能不作此结论呢?11年前,当鲍尔默接手公司时,微软可以毫不自夸地说,在软件领域,它足以令竞争对手闻风丧胆。现如今,微软更为人知的是其种种失误,而非成功的举措和了不起的成绩。在平板电脑和智能手机市场,它本该是一个有力的竞争者;因为十多年前,它就开始致力于电子阅读器(e-reader)的开发,但是现在,当批评者指责其业绩乏善可陈时,公司高管只有一句对应之辞:至少Xbox业务表现不错。

    去年10月,Glassdor.com公司对1,000多名微软员工进行的一项调研显示,只有51%受访者对公司首席执行官鲍尔默的业绩感到满意。

    “与三年前相比,反对史蒂夫的人增加了很多。”一名前中层经理表示。他在效力微软15年之后,于最近离开了公司。“因此,员工们才会一致认为,在他的领导下,公司已然迷失了前进的方向。”

    所有人都认为,微软算得上内部政治斗争最为复杂的公司。过去,微软在IT行业是众人艳羡的对象,彼时,员工们与公司负责人私交密切,最佳产品经理甚至可以脱口说出首席执行官子女的生日。现在,公司首脑好像整天坐在自己的办公室里,离员工们足有一两栋办公楼的距离。一名前公司高管曾用“雷德蒙德的壕沟”这个比喻,来形容这座城堡里的人,特别是那些身居管理要职的人,对外部世界关注之少。

    “微软将全部心思都用在了内部的勾心斗角上。”他表示。“等到你在公司坐到了高位,你就会将90%的时间,用于内部斗争以及建立内部权力网上。”

    比如,詹姆斯•维塔克尔就对这类事深感厌倦。维塔克尔是软件测试领域的领军人物,于1994年开始担任微软的咨询顾问,并最终全职效力于微软。他在微软的地位举足轻重,会定期与比尔•盖茨会晤。但他最终发现,即便像他自己这样备受尊重的老手,也没有了以前的精气神儿,无法单靠能力和业绩与人竞争。

    “微软的文化不再是:‘让我们动手实验,看看哪个点子更好,’而是:‘让我们溜须拍马,也许他们就会对我们的产品感到满意。’” 维塔克尔表示。他于2009年离开了微软,转投谷歌(Google)门下。更糟的是:那些手中握有大权的人,之所以位居显要,不过是因为他们够幸运,在恰当的时间出现在了恰当的地点而已,尽管其开发出的产品平庸不堪,随着公司飞黄腾达,他们也步步高升。

    “微软的企业文化,奖励的是政治杀手。”一名软件工程师表示,他曾认为自己可能会是个例外:尽管中途加盟微软,但作为外来者,事业仍能一帆风顺。虽然他一从开始就深知,对于从其他公司跳槽过来,一加盟微软就直接担当资深职位的人,微软人向来心怀敌意;但是,在他刚刚到微软办公后不久,有一天,一名高管现身他的办公室,大言不惭地向他揭示微软“生存法则”时,他还是不由得大吃一惊。

    “他就站在那儿,对我说:‘你给我记住,如果我愿意,随时能让你的团队土崩瓦解。’”他回忆道。在他看来(他并没有在微软干多久),在微软,某人势力的大小,是通过其与鲍尔默、盖茨或者是二者的关系来体现的。他称这些人为“要人”。其中一个“要人”会不经意地说,自己最近曾跟鲍尔默共进晚餐,接着再带着威胁的口吻暗示说,如果人们不听话,凭他的影响,轻轻动一下小拇指,就能让他们死得很难看。

    “尽管如此,我仍然愿意相信,微软仍然有机会再造辉煌。”里贝卡•诺兰德表示。她在效力微软19年后,于2010年离开了公司。“但是,微软必须得做出改变,而且某种程度上说是剧变才行。”

    总体而言,前微软员工都对老同事赞赏有加。(也有例外:有名前高管心中充满怨气,声称要将自己手中的微软股票全部出手,因为“现在公司已病入膏肓。”)20世纪90年代,当微软身为面向大众市场的廉价软件厂商,宣布它开始进军先进的商业应用领域时,全世界都对之嗤之以鼻。现在,在微软的赢利中,每年有40多亿美元源自公司的商业软件部门。该产品家族的利润,已超过了多数《财富》美国500强(Fortune 500)公司的利润。而且,在微软的总收入中,商业软件只位居第三,远远地被Windows和Office甩在了后面。去年,Windows赢利180亿美元,Office收入也高达170亿美元。

    但是,几名前微软员工反复强调,成功也往往会滋生出恶习。他们中,有不只一人引用心理治疗师的术语,来形容Windows和Office之间不健康的伴生关系。小型设备才是发展的方向,而微软恰在这块前沿阵地上输得最惨。他们接着表示,但是鲍尔默及其领导下的公司拒绝承认这一点。原因在于,Windows和Office两块业务就像两眼金泉,巨额现金收入源源不断地从中喷涌而出,以致鲍尔默等公司领导人根本感觉不到调整发展方向的紧迫性。正是这两块堪称商业发展史上极为成功的许可业务,掩盖了诸多失意带来的伤痛和烦恼。

    微软还接二连三地否决了颇有发展前景的内部项目。这些项目的发起人建议公司不再以Windows为核心,转而建立新的平台。微软的软件工程师们继续埋头编制运行于Windows系统的应用程序,之后,再在此基础上进行修改,并且不管兼容性多差,都拿到手机、平板电脑或者浏览器上去用。同时,尽管辛苦努力了十余年,微软在智能手机操作系统市场仅名列第五,市场份额不足5%。而在平板电脑市场,微软的所作所为,顶多也就是个马后炮。

    “微软的一切内部机制仍然以Windows为核心。”詹姆斯•维塔克尔指出。“Windows永远都是最重要的,网络只能屈居第二。因此,整个公司整天都围着一个日渐落伍的平台转。”

    我共采访了16名前微软员工。其中一半认为,鲍尔默该走人了。但是,这并不意味着,余下的一半人就认为微软首席执行官干得很出色。尽管确实有几个人持此观点,但是,余下的一半人中,多数人都心存疑虑:谁可能比鲍尔默干得出色?

    也许,对于那些将多年职业生涯献给了微软的人来说,这是最重的批评之辞:微软就像一架难以操纵又异常复杂的庞大机器,尽管这些人花了一个多小时,不厌其烦地历数该公司走错的每一步,但即使他们,也不得不承认,除非将微软分成两个或多个部分,否则该公司董事会除了继续任用鲍尔默,同时希望他能知人善用,有效管理大批软件人才,并扭转劣势外,别无他选。

    What's the matter with Microsoft? After spending weeks tracking down and talking with a long list of former Microsoft (MSFT) employees, many of them veterans with fifteen or more years with the company, the question is how long do you have to hear the answer.

    Corey Salka, who worked at Microsoft from 1992 until 2009, brings up the anti-trust fight. The company decided to fight the U.S. Justice Department rather than settle and things were never the same. Salka points to the humiliation colleagues felt watching Apple (AAPL) mock them in its 'I'm a Mac, You're a PC' campaign. For years Microsoft took it, he said, without so much as counterpunch.

    "That would have been inconceivable in the 1990s," said Salka, who describes Microsoft as "a more cautious company than before."

    Philip Su, who spent a dozen years working at Microsoft before taking a job at Facebook, sees a less motivated workforce as a root cause of Microsoft's lost mojo. Su remembers when he kept a sleeping bag at the office but that was in the late 1990s, when Microsoft still reigned as one of Wall Street's better stories. The new reality these days, Su said, are daily traffic jams in Redmond at 5 PM.

    That's the problem with a stock that is no longer splitting every 18 months, Su said. With a share price stuck at $25 for the better part of a decade, people tend to leave in a much more narrow time frame than in the past.

    "When there's so little correlation between how hard I work and my income and other rewards," Su said, "it's a lot harder to ask people to work that hard."

    Plenty of former employees point an accusing finger at CEO Steve Ballmer. How can they avoid doing so? When Ballmer took over the company eleven years ago, Microsoft had only to let slip it was entering a field to cause trembling among competitors. These days, though, the company is known more for its misses, fumbles, and stumbles than its hits and big scores. It should be a contender in the tablets and smart phone markets; it was working on an e-reader more than a decade ago but instead company executives have only one answer when critics bring up its flubs: Well, at least we didn't also blow the Xbox.

    A survey of more than 1,000 Microsoft employees conducted in October by Glassdor.com showed that only 51% of them approved of Ballmer's performance as CEO.

    "There's certainly a lot more dissension with Steve than there would have been even three year ago," said a former middle manager who recently left the company after 15 years. "There's this sense that under his direction, the company has really lost its way."

    By all accounts, Microsoft can be the most political of workplaces. In the old days, when the company was the envy of the tech industry, its people knew the competition so intimately that the best product managers could rattle off the birthdays of the CEO's kids. These days, though, it seems the competition sits in an office one or two buildings over. One former exec spoke of a "moat around Redmond" -- and how little attention those inside the castle, especially those occupying management positions, pay to the world outside.

    "Microsoft is such an inwardly-focused company," he said. "By the time you're in a senior position, it's like you spend 90% of your time focused on internal battles and internal power structures."

    James Whittaker for one grew sick of it. A leading figure in the software testing field, he started consulting for Microsoft in 1994 and eventually went to work for the company full-time. He was someone who met regularly with Bill Gates. And yet he found that even well-regarded old hands like himself didn't have the juice to compete on the merits.

    "Instead of a culture that said, 'Let's experiment and see which ideas work,' the culture is one of, 'Let's kiss enough ass so maybe they'll approve of our product,'" said Whittaker, who quit in 2009 to work for Google (GOOG). Maybe the worst of it: those in authority often attained their position because they had been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, succeeding when the company was riding high and despite producing a mediocre product.

    "It's a culture that actually awards the political assassins," said a software engineer who thought he might be one of the exceptions -- an outsider able to thrive despite moving to Redmond mid-career. He was well aware of Microsoft's reputation for being hostile to those hired into senior positions from the outside but he was flabbergasted just the same when a top exec showed up in his office one day to spell out the facts of life inside Microsoft shortly after he arrived on campus.

    "He's standing there telling me, 'I can have your team broken apart any time I want, just remember that,' " he said. As far as he could tell (he didn't last long), the coin of the realm within the company was one's relationship with Ballmer, Gates, or both. One of the "kingpins," as he described them, will drop that he recently had dinner with Ballmer -- and then hint darkly at how miserable someone of his considerable clout can make other people's lives unless they toe the line.

    "I still want to believe there's an opportunity for them to become a great company again," said Rebecca Norlander, who left Microsoft in 2010 after 19 years on the job. "But Microsoft needs to change. And in some cases change dramatically."

    Microsoft alum generally give their former colleagues credit. (Well, except the rather bitter former top exec who said he was selling every last share of stock in a company because "there's something cancerous inside the company right now.") In the 1990s, the world mocked Microsoft when this mass market maker of relatively cheap software announced it was getting into the more sophisticated world of business applications. These days, Microsoft's business software division contributes more than $4 billion a year to the corporate bottom line -- more in profits from this one family of products than much of the Fortune 500. And of course business software takes a distant third to Windows, which generated $18 billion in profits last year, and Office, which produced $17 billion in income.

    Yet success can breed bad habits -- a point several Microsoft alum hammered home. More than one employed the vocabulary of a therapist describing an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship when speaking about Windows and Office. Small devices are the future and it's on this front that Microsoft is having its biggest failures. Yet Ballmer & Co. remain in denial, they say, because the great gushers of cash Windows and Office generate means they don't feel the urgency they otherwise would –shielded from the pain of its many disappointments by two of the more successful franchises in the history of business.

    The company continues to thwart promising internal projects whose proponents who suggest a platform that isn't Windows-centric. Its people continue to write applications for Windows and then, after the fact, tailor them for use on a phone or a tablet or in a browser, no matter how ragged the fit. Meanwhile its in fifth place in the smart phone market, despite more than a decade of effort, with less than a five percent market share, and an after-thought at best in tablets.

    "All their internal machinery is still pointed toward Windows," James Whittaker said. "Windows always has to be first and the web is second. So the entire company is pointed at a platform becoming increasingly irrelevant."

    Of 16 ex-softies I polled, half thought it was time for Ballmer to leave. But it's not like the other half necessarily thought the company's CEO was doing a good job. A few did -- but most of the others wondered who else might do better.

    Maybe that's the most damning criticism offered by those who've devoted much of their work life to Microsoft: it is so unwieldy and complex a beast that even some of those who spent an hour or more telling me everything that's wrong with the company concede that, short of breaking it into two or more parts, the board has no choice but to stick with Ballmer and hope he can harness the company's considerable talents and turn things around.

 

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