John Thompson

John Thompson wasn’t the most biting Microsoft critic of all time — there are plenty of others who deserve that title, and as the CEO of security software company Symantec, Thompson was in the tricky position of needing to partner with Microsoft, as well. But he did take his share of swipes at the Redmond company, particularly as Microsoft encroached on Symantec’s turf with its own security software.

“We aren’t distracted by computer games and a host of unrelated security stuff going on,” Thompson said during a public appearance in 2005, alluding to Microsoft and saying the company appeared “genetically incapable” of offering a security solution for systems beyond Windows.

Symantec even sued Microsoft during Thompson’s tenure in an attempt to stop the Windows Vista release, claiming intellectual property violations.

Meet Microsoft’s newest board member. The company today named Thompson as its newest director, returning the board to 10 members. Thompson stepped down as Symantec CEO in 2009 and is now the CEO of Virtual Instruments and a Silicon Valley investor.

“John has extraordinary technology and business expertise, and we are delighted that he is joining Microsoft’s board of directors,” says Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in a news release.

Adds Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, “John brings a wealth of experience, from enterprise customers to individual consumers, as well as the insights that come from running a successful large global software company and a fast-emerging startup. He will be a great addition to our board.”

Thompson is quoted in the release, “I am honored to join the Microsoft board and work with this exceptional team. Microsoft has been a leader across the entire information technology landscape for decades, and I look forward to sharing my experiences and contributing to the future direction and growth of this global leader.”

It might not be the massive board overhaul that some investors want, but it sure would be fascinating to be a fly on the wall as Thompson settles in for his first few board meetings.

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  • Guest

    Expecting a MS board member to shake things up is like waiting for Godot. MS has one of the worst records of any large technology company over the last thirteen years. Half their value has been erased despite squandering more than $100 billion on buybacks. They’ve lost their previously held for decades lead in profit and market cap. Growth has gone from high double digits to 5% and struggling. They’ve failed in new market after new market, even in cases where they were literally a decade ahead of others (mobile, tablets). Now they’re even losing share in their traditional core markets (Windows, Office, Windows Server, SQL, development tools and frameworks) at a dramatically escalating rate.

    The company that still dominated in 2000 is widely seen today as a perpetual laggard and laughing stock. There have even been numerous stories recently questioning their ability to even survive in the future. By comparison Apple, who was almost bankrupt back them and has spent less than a tenth as much in R&D in most years subsequently, is now larger by revenue, more profitable, has more cash, is growing at 10x the rate, is arguably better positioned for future growth overall, and is valued by the market at almost double with forecasts calling for the difference to widen significantly still.

    Along the way Ballmer has repeatedly and consistently underestimated the competition and made arrogant predictions about their likelihood for success, which invariably proved to be 100% wrong, while simultaneously overestimating MS’s ability. Ballmer has earned a fair amount of criticism for that, as he should, but the board which has steadfastly supported him through all those mistakes and failures has largely escaped direct rebuke.

    Like the others, Thompson probably won’t rock the boat. He’ll ultimately bow to whatever Gates wants, just as all previous Directors have despite the resulting negative impact on the company.

    Change at MS will ultimately be driven by shareholders when they get fed up of losing money and seeing the company’s ongoing loss of relevance and competitive decline. At that time both Ballmer and Gates will have to be removed. Otherwise Bill’s lingering influence will continue to thwart any Directors or new CEO who would champion the the kind of substantive and long overdue changes required to give this company any chance at a future that is brighter than its past.

    • Guest

      As a shareholder, what should the new CEO and Chairman do to make Microsoft more of an Apple?

      • Guest

        I’m not sure that’s the right question. Defining themselves in terms of competitors has been one of the defining failure characteristics of the Ballmer era. They need to plot a customer-focused strategy that plays to their unique strengths, assuming any remain.  

        Steve Jobs didn’t lead Apple’s unprecedented resurgence by asking how Apple could be more like MS (or Oracle, Cisco, Sun, EMC) back in the late 90’s. The same goes for IBM’s less dramatic but still impressive transformation over the last decade.

  • Jerald

    Thompson has deep enterprise experience. He started at IBM, then increased Symantec’s revenue 10x, to more than $6 billion a year, during his decade as the company’s CEO.

    • Guest

      Maybe the board should have made him CEO instead of Director?

  • Mark

    Is that Microsoft and symantec going to keep a business deals in the future.

  • Guest

    “I love our strategy. The board loves our strategy. Our competitors really love our strategy. And John has assured us that he loves our strategy too, which is why we decided to hire him over the previous hundred candidates.”

    – Steve Ballmer

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