Microsoft's Culture Is Like 'IBM Circa 1990,' New Chairman Says

John ThompsonMicrosoftJohn Thompson, Microsoft chairman and Virtual Instruments CEO

John Thompson, Microsoft’s newly appointed chairman of the board, says Microsoft today reminded him of IBM before its historic turnaround.

He told Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky:

I would argue that there are some attributes to Microsoft today that do look vaguely like IBM circa 1990. The Windows monopoly is in fact under attack, and therefore we’re going to have to change or think differently about the management systems and the associated culture of the company as time goes on.

Thompson would know. Although he’s best known as the former CEO of security software company Symantec, doing that job for 10 years (1999-2009), he was at IBM for 28 years before that.

This is what IBM was like in the early 1990s, he says:

One of the things IBM learned was when their monopoly ran out and they had to compete with a bunch of smaller, more agile companies, they needed to have a different rate and pace of change.

And Lou Gerstner coming into IBM certainly brought about a sense of urgency [saying] “… here are the behaviours that will be rewarded, and here are the ones that will be punished.”

That’s the job that now falls on the shoulders of Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella.

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