Photo: Owen Thomas, Business Insider
At the Launch Festival, a startup conference held this week in San Francisco, tech impresario Jason Calacanis interviewed Yammer CEO David Sacks.One of his questions: Is Microsoft, which acquired Yammer last year for $1.2 billion, grooming Sacks for a larger role?
Is Sacks, in other words, the next Steve Ballmer?
Sacks was quick to deflect the question.
“I report to the guy who reports to the guy who reports to Steve Ballmer,” Sacks said. “There’s a lot of people who have much more important jobs than I do at Microsoft.”
Sacks’s comment about his org chart was a surprise to us—we and others had been left with the impression at the call announcing the Yammer deal that Sacks would report to Microsoft Office Division president Kurt DelBene, the guy who reports to Steve Ballmer.
In fact, Sacks clarified to us, he reports to Jeff Teper, a corporate vice president in charge of Microsoft’s SharePoint product, who reports to DelBene—and that’s been the case since the Yammer deal went through.
That makes sense, given that Yammer is increasingly being sold in conjunction with SharePoint and Microsoft’s Web-based Office 365 software.
Sacks told us Teper was the “chief advocate” of the Yammer deal within Microsoft and has been Yammer’s “biggest champion within Microsoft.”
So it sounds all good!
But the goal of the Yammer acquisition wasn’t just to give Microsoft one more product to sell.
It was to infect the larger organisation with some of Yammer’s ideas about building and selling software delivered over the Internet.
It also gave Microsoft a supremely talented executive in the form of Sacks. And we have to think he shouldn’t be reporting to somebody who reports to somebody who reports to the boss forever.
Maybe he should be the boss.
Here’s why: Sacks, a former PayPal executive and angel investor, is part of Silicon Valley’s public life and the interplay of ideas that happens here in a way that no Microsoft executive is—even CEO Steve Ballmer. (Especially Ballmer, come to think of it.)
Ballmer barely uses social media. (He has a little-used, self-described “secret” Twitter account, @stevebmicrosoft, which he revealed to an audience of Ukrainian students in 2010.)
Contrast that to Sacks, who carefully tracks tweets by Yammer users and can set the tech world astorm with a single Facebook post about the future of startups.
We’re not saying Sacks should be CEO of Microsoft because he uses Facebook and Twitter. That’s silly.
Those are just examples of how he’s setting a model for what a new kind of tech-company CEO looks like, engaging with customers and the public in the media that they embrace.
Sacks also has talked about how he manages by “pattern recognition” and “exception handling”—sorting through noise for signals to focus his energies on. You have to be in the mix to see those patterns and exceptions.
Right now, Sacks is in the right place to see the team and the culture he built integrated into Microsoft with the least damage possible. (Things have been a little rocky, but many acquisitions have gone far, far worse than this one.)
After that job’s done, Sacks will still have all his pattern-recognition skills, but he’ll also be far better versed in the ways power works within Microsoft—a necessary skill for any successor to Ballmer.
At PayPal and Yammer, Sacks has made a lot of money for his investors. Maybe Microsoft’s shareholders should give him a shot.
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