Steve Ballmer. Image by Getty.
No chief executive wants the company’s shares to jump sharply on the news that he or she is stepping down.
Pent-up relief, however, was the reaction to Steve Ballmer’s decision to retire as Microsoft chief executive within a year.
It has been a long time coming. Mr Ballmer has struggled mightily since becoming the boss in 2000 to keep Microsoft at the front of the computing and software industry, but has allowed it to be eclipsed by Google and Apple. Read more
Industries are in flux. Google’s driverless cars are waiting at the intersection of internal combustion and search engines. Payment companies such as M-Pesa, Stripe and PayPal are testing the locks on banks’ safe deposit boxes. Samsung, Apple and Google’s Android have put BlackBerry and Nokia on hold. If you are the chief executive of a carmaker, financial institution or mobile phone maker and you are not yet worrying about the blurred edges of what was once a clearly demarcated border between sectors, you are lost.
Sales of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four have risen since Edward Snowden revealed how the National Security Agency of the US gains access to telephone records and data from technology companies. So far, if people do not exactly love Big Brother, they are prepared to accept some invasion of their privacy in return for security.
Everywhere one looks, Google is doing remarkable things. It could soon overtake Apple in downloads of applications; it is developing self-driving cars; people wear its kooky augmented reality Glass spectacles; it is signing renewable power deals in South Africa and Sweden.
About a year ago I was in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, gazing down at the Golden Gate Bridge from one of Larry Ellison’s many spectacular homes. The Oracle chief executive wasn’t there – he had lent the house out for a reception. In any case, he would be the last person to apologise for enjoying the fruits of his success. But the view from technology executives’ balconies is getting stormier. After banks and bankers, could they be next to feel the sting of a populist backlash?
As Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, launches a new music subscription service and the company’s share price continues to climb, it’s worth nothing what a success he has so far been in the role – despite the doubters, including myself. Read more
BlackBerry phones by RIM. Getty Images
We are about to find out whether Research in Motion can re-establish itself as a serious competitor in the smartphone world, or will go the way of Palm and others, crushed by Apple and Google.
Judging by alleged leaked photographs of the new BlackBerry London phone that will run BlackBerry 10 software, it seems as if RIM has gone through the full five stages of the Kübler-Ross grief model in response to the iPhone, arriving at “acceptance” and abandoning its illusions.
Having initially protested that few people would want a smartphone without a physical keyboard, and continuing to display a lot of anger and resentment, RIM has changed its management and adjusted to the world as it is. Read more
Larry Page, Google's chief executive
It isn’t often that the Daily Mail splashes on a US stock exchange announcement, so the fuss over Google’s botched disclosure of its third quarter results – and the plunge in its shares on Thursday – is a big event.
The lesson I take from it is that it is awfully hard for a public company to ignore the clamour of the stock market. Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, turned up on the earnings call to explain the premature release of the results, despite the medical condition that makes his voice hoarse.
When Google floated in 2004, Mr Page and Sergey Brin, his co-founder, insisted that they would ignore quarterly results and manage the business for the long term: Read more
The outcry over Apple’s switch on its new operating system and iPhone to its own mapping technology rather than Google Maps strikes me as more serious for the Cupertino wizards than past glitches.
There have been widespread complaints over Siri, the voice-activated artificial intelligence application in the iPhone 4GS and now iPhone 5. But Siri is at least an optional extra, while maps are now a key product feature of smartphones.
The trouble is that Apple is playing catch-up with Google over its mapping technology – it switched to its own information service because it felt that Google was favouring Android phones, leaving the iPhone vulnerable. Read more
Facebook’s video for retail investors in its forthcoming initial public offering is a nice innovation, but fundamentally, Facebook is taking a step back from Google’s IPO in 2004.
The IPO bookrunners and co-managers are a litany of Wall Street names, led by Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. But Facebook has dropped Google’s attempt to upend the IPO process by running an electronic auction. Read more
Google’s stance against the European Commission on the subject of privacy – rolling out its new policy for sharing personal data among its sites despite warnings that it may breach European law – strikes me as foolhardy.
US companies that get into a tangle with the EU, often egged on by US supporters who believe that European regulators are over-reaching their powers, tend to come off worse from the struggle. The prime example was Microsoft in its anti-trust battle during the mid-2000s.
The pattern is in danger of being repeated, with supporters of internet freedoms such as Jeff Jarvis of City University of New York criticising the EU action and arguing that it is part of a pattern of government attempts at misguided regulation. Read more
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, sets himself an admirable test in the company’s filing for an initial public offering – “that everyone who invests in Facebook understands what this mission means to us, how we make decisions and why we do the things we do.” Unfortunately, he then flunks it.
Like Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, which went public in 2004, Mr Zuckerberg has written a letter to shareholders to explain his approach to their new investors. While Google’s letter was brisk and open about how they intended to ignore short-term earnings targets, his is aspirational and vague.
“By focussing on our mission and building great services, we believe we will create the most value for our shareholders and partners over the long term . . . We don’t wake up in the morning with the primary goal of making money, but we understand that the best way to achieve our mission is to build a strong and valuable company,” Mr Zuckerberg writes. Read more
The latest developments at Groupon hardly improve my faith in its prospects for a sound initial public offering.
Not only has Margo Georgiadis, its chief operating officer, left after five months (having, according to the FT, “struggled in dealings with Andrew Mason”, its chief executive) but on Friday it adjusted its S1 IPO filing in a way that cut its reported revenues by more than half. Read more
It’s sad to see Eastman Kodak reduced – at least in many investors’ eyes – to a punt on the photographic pioneer’s patents.
On Wednesday, its shares jumped by a quarter on the suggestion that its intellectual property could be worth more than the company itself. It’s a sign of the times as much as it is a sign of Kodak’s failure to find a convincing answer to the digital photography challenge: Google’s $12.5bn agreed bid this week for Motorola Mobility was largely based on the value of the mobile phonemaker’s patent portfolio. Read more
One problem with examining the road not taken is that it’s usually impossible to tell whether you took the right route until it’s too late to change course.
The announcement of the Google-Motorola Mobility deal sent me back to notes from an interview with Nokia’s chief executive Stephen Elop in March, to remind myself how difficult it is to make strategic leaps in a fast-changing industry. You’ll recall that the Finnish group ended up selecting Microsoft as its smartphone partner rather than Google. Read more
Three things irritate me about Biz Stone’s announcement that he will step back from running Twitter.
1) He doesn’t know the difference between “its” and “it’s”. (Too much time reading his followers’ tweets, I suspect).
2) He talks about his stint at Twitter in grandiose terms that imply he has been there a lifetime, describing how his work there has “spanned more than half a decade”.
3) His Twitter project isn’t complete yet. Read more
I am in Paris with a group of leaders of internet and technology companies, all of whom have been asking the same question: What am I doing here? Read more
Since it has been a public company, Google has stuck to a virtuous policy of not playing the Wall Street game by refusing to give earnings guidance. It is now suffering Wall Street’s revenge.
The harsh analysts’ reaction to Google’s recent earnings announcement – the first since Larry Page became its solo chief executive – compared with analysts’ enthusiasm about Apple’s earnings shows what Mr Page is up against.
In contrast to Google, Apple blatantly tries to set earning expectations low enough that it will “beat the Street” each time. It did so spectacularly with its second quarter earnings announcement on Wednesday. Read more
Larry Page returns to work at Google today as its chief executive, although he never went away in the first place, having spent a decade as “president of products” and part of the triumvirate that ran the company.
Still, with Eric Schmidt moving up to becoming “executive chairman” – usually an ambiguous term that means “the old chief executive who is not yet willing to relinquish the reins fully” – Mr Page appears to be back in charge of the company he co-founded with Sergey Brin.
The question is whether his return will reinvigorate Google to prevent it being knocked off its perch as the leading internet company by Facebook or others. Its search engine is still leader but search itself is increasingly under pressure. Read more
Twitter’s fifth birthday today comes as AT&T’s announces it wants to buy T-Mobile USA for $39bn to form the largest US mobile provider. The two events are more than a coincidence.
AT&T produced some slides for its announcement showing the rapid growth in mobile data use – 8,000 per cent over four years according to its calculations – and is justifying the acquisition partly by warning of spectrum exhaustion.
Twitter, meanwhile, is the first big social media company to be conceived with mobile in mind. It’s 140-character limit for messages was based on the original 160-character limit for phone text messages. Read more