Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bill gates : End of an era

Microsoft's chairman and founder Bill Gates retired from the company yesterday. The 52 year old will Gates spend major portion of his time for philanthropy along with his wife on their Melinda Gates foundation. With his major stake in Microsoft, Gates will serve as a non-executive chairman with one day a week spent for Microsoft. According to me this truly marks end of a great era with great achievements and contributions. As a Harvard dropout, Gates wore multiple hats as an Entrepreneur, Technologist, Strategist and a great business thinker. He also set a great example for thousands of young entrepreneurs throughout the world that an individual with his dream can significantly change the world around. Hats off to this great person!

My memory travels back to my hostel room, where we used to have intense debate about Microsoft and Bill Gates. Many of my friends used to argue that Gates has stolen the idea of Windows (from Apple), built software with loads of bugs, monopolized the software market etc. While those arguments cannot be completely ruled out, I like Bill Gates mainly because he is a great business man. Here are some of the reasons why I like him a lot.

To start with he spotted a great opportunity of PC revolution. He was able to envision the computing shifting from mainframes to personal computers. With the invention of micro-processors, Intel and Microsoft still continue to rule the PC market, what Andy Grove calls as 'Wintel' (Windows + Intel) phenomenon in his famous book 'Only the paranoid survive'. He was able to see what others were not able to in an era which was dominated by big players like IBM. Second, he built a great business model around the Windows operating system. By positioning Windows as a platform, he empowered many application developers to run their software on Windows platform. This literally made Windows as a "de-facto" standard in the application world. As engineers, we often think that a great technical idea is what it takes to build a great company. However in reality it is good business model wrapped with aggressive marketing strategies is what makes a successful company. Microsoft just did that! I personally know many of the startups failed mainly due to their inability to market and sell their products not because of their engineering ability to build great product. Third, he has set example that young passionate entrepreneurs can indeed make a difference to the world around. He continues to be a role model for many of the entrepreneurs across countries and industries. He build a 44 Billion dollar business from the scratch without any Venture funding or pre-defined ecosystem for PC. In fact Microsoft has build an ecosystem around its products.

However the future ride for Microsoft (minus Gates) will not be all that easy. It is facing multi faceted competition from Linux (in the enterprise server space), Google (in the internet and applications apace) and Apple (in the entertainment space) apart from other big players like IBM, Novell and Sun micro systems. According to 'Built to last' (more on this book later) authors visionary companies are all about having the adaptability to change and win the test of time. For example, Sony's first product was a wooden rice cooker but today they are into consumer electronics. Hewlett-Packard was an electronic instrument company but today they sell printers, PCs and servers. Only time will tell if Microsoft will be such a visionary company with next generation of products and leaders.

I remember watching the NDTV's Pranoy Roy interviewing Bill Gates (along with Narayana Murthy) in 2005. Here is an interesting question and Gate's answer to that:

Pranoy Roy: To get back to ESOPs and motivation. But before we get to ESOPs, you have achieved so much, you have changed the world. you have changed your life, how do you keep yourself motivated to work on and on and on?

Gates: I think there are several things. First of all is I love my work, i get to work with smart people, it is a field that constantly changing, every couple of years people say, you know, some new company is gonna put you out of business, and we get to show people "No, not this time".
How long they will be able to say "No,not this time" ?

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