Ballmer reportedly reorganizing Microsoft

Rumors of a reorg are in the air, as well as suggestions that Microsoft sell Xbox or Bing

Earlier this morning, Kara Swisher at AllThingsD filed a report quoting unnamed "sources close to the situation" saying that Ballmer is zeroing in on a restructuring of his Byzantine management chart.

Much has changed since I last looked at the Microsoft "Game of Thrones" in November; so many top execs have left the company since then that it's a whole new dance.

With Ballmer's newfound emphasis on "iron and gab" -- er, "devices and services," it isn't at all clear how the chips might fall in a reorganization.

Clearly, the current management structure at Microsoft doesn't lend itself to a two-pronged approach. Right now Microsoft has designated presidents for each of these old-school P&L activities:

  • Server & Tools -- Satya Nadella
  • Office -- Kurt DelBene
  • Dynamics (Business Solutions) -- Kirill Tatarinov
  • Bing (Online Services) -- Qi Lu
  • Skype -- Tony Bates
  • Xbox (Interactive Entertainment) -- Don Mattrick

That's a very odd stew. Skype has a president-level head, for example, but Windows does not. Surface -- presumably at the vanguard of the "devices" front -- has no one at the top. Windows Phone -- which many expected to be folded into Windows itself -- still sits on its own little organizational island, with its former president Andy Lees stuck under the Chief Financial Officer. The fact that Amy Hood just took over as CFO begs the question of what Lees is doing over there. And so on.

Complicating matters: We have no way of knowing whether this reorg will be part of, or a precursor to, Ballmer's exit plan -- if indeed he has one. 

Further complicating matters: howls from the unwashed masses about a (serious!) proposal by analyst Rick Sherlund that Microsoft sell off its Bing and Xbox units. That would be like dumping the "d" in "devices" and the "vices" in "services."

What will Ballmer do? It's very hard to say. But I'd like to offer these observations:

  • Both Lees and Mattrick are well positioned to take on the "devices" part of the equation. Mattrick may have the upper hand because of the enormous success of Xbox, but Lees has been a stalwart Ballmer supporter for many years. The fact that Lees dodged Steve Sinofsky's attempts to swallow the phone effort and that Ballmer found a way to tuck Lees away in the organization while sparks were flying speak volumes.
  • Nadella has to be the top choice in the "services" sphere. If things swing his way, Nadella has very strong support in longtimer DelBene and newcomer Bates, with an outstanding tech assist from Lu.
  • I don't see any dark horses running around. There will certainly be others elevated to lofty positions if Microsoft adds a new layer of management, but there aren't any obvious choices that I can see.
  • There's isn't a boson's chance in Boston that Microsoft will sell Xbox or Bing.

Stay tuned. This is going to get interesting.

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