Robbie Bach

Robbie Bach, the former head of Microsoft’s Xbox business, is returning to the technology world, sorta.

Bach, a 22-year Microsoft veteran who retired from the company last year at age 48, has joined the board of Sonos Inc., the privately held maker of high-tech home audio equipment, according to a Wall Street Journal report today.

The WSJ’s Nick Wingfield reports that Bach agreed to join the board in part because he’s a user of Sonos products. In an interview with the newspaper, Bach calls the Sonos systems “magical” and “really easy to use.”

Bach has been active on the boards of the Boys & Girls Club of America and the U.S. Olympic Committee since leaving Microsoft, but he downplayed the possibility of returning full-time to technology when I bumped into him at an event in Seattle a few months back.

He was president of Microsoft’s Entertainment & Devices Division prior to leaving the company. From the outside, his departure was viewed as part of Microsoft shaking up its devices and mobile strategy, but Bach said at the time that he had simply decided it was time to move on after more than two decades working there.

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  • Guest

    Poor Sonos.

    • Mark

      As long as they do the exact opposite of anything Bach says, they should do just fine.

      • Todd Bishop

        I don’t get the blanket negativity toward Robbie Bach. 

        If you look at Microsoft’s business today, the Xbox business that he helped build is one of the bright spots. Yes, it was extremely expensive (billions and billions spent), and the hardware flaws were a huge setback at the time, but the view you guys are giving here seems off kilter when you look at the whole picture.

        I fully expect to be taken to task for pointing this out, so have at it.

        • Mark

          He lost $6B on Xbox after saying it wouldn’t go more than a couple of years before profitability. It’s still is at least $5B in the red. He lost the music battle to Apple, twice. First from a strong position with Playsforsure and then from a weakened one with the failed Zune, which had promise but was hobbled and botched from the beginning. He was responsible for mobile and tablets when MS lost a *decade* head start in both to Apple and let Android take over as the alternate. Remember how the iPhone wasn’t going to adversely impact MS’s mobile business “at all”, according to Robbie? He divided MS’s resources across Project Pink/Danger and WM7 and condoned a culture where both groups openly tried to undermine the other. The result: Kin, a $1B+ write off, and three years for MS to mount its first response to iPhone, after firing most of the people Bach had put in charge and Bach himself (oh, I forgot, he “retired”).

          At least $10B was spent on interactive TV and billions more on automotive over a decade, yet neither is materially enough from a revenue or profit perspective today to even merit mention in EDD’s results. He was responsible for retail during a period when Apple created an entire retail empire, which now has a huge positive impact on their results, and MS did nothing until it was way too late. He was responsible for MCE when it went from leader to laggard. He created expensive facilities that later had to be abandoned. And he’s generally credited with losing the exclusive relationship with HP following the mobile failures and Courier turning out to be nothing more than vaporware.

          Blanket negativity? I call that an honest assessment of his relative success. He basically failed at the majority of things he was tasked with, thereby robbing MS of the future growth engines it heavily invested in and was depending on to kick in by now (but mostly haven’t). And even his one “success”, Xbox, has been a huge financial failure due to his earlier mismanagement. Last quarter EDD made a whopping $32M profit. The entire division. And even on the year its contribution margin is laughable by software standards and makes the whole exercise questionable at best.

          Bach in a lot of ways defines why MS hasn’t been more successful over the last decade and has lost relevance. While other companies promote people into senior leadership based on demonstrated ability to deliver, Ballmer has too often promoted those he liked, and whose main qualification was their ability to a) be obsequious, b) talk a good story, and c) always sound confident even while losing badly. Luckily, as growth has slowed and Ballmer has come under more pressure, there’s been more emphasis on deliverables vs personality. So goodbye Bach and good riddance.

        • Bob

          The entire net profit of his division after a decade of effort and ten of billions spent, is less than his personal paycheck in any one of those years, including the last where he earned more while imploding mobile than Sinofsky did turning around Windows.

          How can anyone not be critical of that record?

          • Todd Bishop

            Absolutely — billions and billions spent to build the Xbox business. You might say ‘wasted,’ rather than spent. But it’s now one of the few things Microsoft has working to its advantage in the consumer market. I’m just saying it’s important to recognize the whole picture.

          • Guest

            Mark gave the whole picture. And it ain’t pretty.

          • Guest

            Mark gave the whole picture. And it ain’t pretty.

  • daryn

    I’m a huge Sonos fan, great to see them growing!

  • Mike Mathieu

    Sonos dev team includes a number of ex-Microsoftie — they were with Vermeer when Microsoft bought them for its FrontPage product back in the mid/late-1990s. After years working on FrontPage, they left (10 yrs ago) to return to the east coast, and got hooked up with Sonos, which does have an awesome user interface.

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