The strange saga of Microsoft continues.
Bloomberg news reports that Bill Gates is considering working at Microsoft one day a week, helping to develop new products.
He would also give up his position as chairman of the board, though he would remain on the board of directors.
So, let’s start with why this would be a good thing for Microsoft: Bill Gates was an exacting boss who put people through extraordinarily difficult product reviews.
Years ago, a Microsoft employee told us getting a product review from Gates was terrifying, but exciting. It was terrifying because he was shred the product to bits for the slightest mistake. But that made it exciting because you knew he actually cared about the quality of the product.
Steve Ballmer, who is leaving his post as CEO, was the opposite, according to our source. He was more interested in a product’s business plan than the experience for the user.
Having Gates return to a more product-oriented role could be good for Microsoft. It will get that exacting, detail-obsessed chief who wants to make sure users get high-quality products.
Now that we’ve discussed the positives of Gates returning, let’s look at the negatives, of which there are many.
This is a one day a week job. How much can Gates really contribute working one day a week? He could end up creating a bottleneck for products, if one day a week he shows up for reviews.
Gates will also risk overshadowing the new CEO, who is expected to be Satya Nadella. Will employees try to get their products approved by Gates or Nadella? Who will have more influence?
Those things can be worked out, though. There’s a much bigger problem with Gates, and some people at Microsoft are willing to talk about it, though they usually whisper.
The reason Microsoft is in a funk is because of Bill Gates. He was chairman of the board while Ballmer did what he did at Microsoft. Gates didn’t interject at any point.
Gates was still active at the company when Google was forming, and when Apple introduced the iPhone. The Internet and mobile are the two biggest changes in technology in the last 20 years, and Gates whiffed on both of them.
Since 2008, Gates has focused on his philanthropic work. He’s been out of the tech world. It’s going to be hard for him to just step back into Microsoft, working one day a week and have much of a positive impact.
Perhaps we’re misreading this report, and it’s not that big of a deal. It’s entirely possible that Nadella is simply asking Gates to help out a little at Microsoft, and that’s what he’s doing.
But if anyone is thinking that Gates is going to come in and rescue Microsoft, they haven’t been paying attention.