Bill Gates (Chairman Microsoft) management style and CIOs

Bill Gates selling windows

Image by niallkennedy via Flickr

“There is no security in this life. There is only opportunity.”

Douglas MacArthur(1880 -1964) American General

Bill Gates (1955 – ) Microsoft Chairman and philanthropist

Today’s article is the fourth in a series of articles (1stSteve Jobs, 2nd Michael Dell, and 3rd was written on  Warren Buffet, analysing current and past leaders to ascertain how Chief Information Officer’s (CIOs) can learn better management by applying the management practices of leadership, practiced by these leaders.

Gates has led Microsoft from start-up to‘software giant’ with quite an unorthodox style of management. On Microsoft’s website, he measures Microsoft’s success as, “We’ve really achieved the ideal of what I wanted Microsoft to become.”

PS: CIO is a generic term and other analogous titles are Head of IT, IT Director, Director of IT etc.

The Management Style

What can CIOs learn from Gate’s management style? Let’s investigate while allowing you to decide.  (In no particular order and a few other sources utilised):

1. Create and nurture ‘the correct culture.’ – ‘John Battelle co-founded Wired Magazine. He says Microsoft was the pioneer of the new-agey workplace, making work as comfortable, inspiring and fun as possible so workers would spend lots of time there.

John Battelle: And as a matter of fact, at Wired we adopted that stuff. We had a chef and a masseuse, all sorts of services, because we wanted our employees to stick around. I believe Microsoft gets a lot of credit for that.

Bill Gates didn’t even finish college, but the office culture he created at Microsoft is now being taught at the country’s top business schools.’ – Courtesy of Marketplace

2. Develop a Clear Vision–and Stick to It. – From the beginning, he dreamed of developing Microsoft into a corporate giant. For CIOs this is one of the most important traits that MUST be part of the toolbox.

CIOs need to clearly identify to themselves and communicate to the environment that they work in ‘the vision’ that they have set out to achieve. They then need to have the confidence to deliver that vision.

3. Hire ‘Action’ oriented employees. – CIOs usually have exposure to many different environments and come across many employees. Some will be better than others, while some will be outstanding. Gates has always hired the smartest people who can ‘get the job done.’

Hire your friends and past colleagues, as they will have loyalty to you and you personally know whether they have what it takes to realise your ‘vision.’

4. Relax and feel at home – According to Matt Richey, ‘Microsoft has a simple way of maximizing its employees’ productivity: It allows each individual’s office to be as individualized as one desires.

That means making the office more like home. Everything from real offices (not cubicles) to windows in most offices, from free soft drinks to no dress code, from an open supply room to anything-goes work hours. Quite simply, these policies improve employee morale, and thus increase overall productivity.’

5. ‘Image’ is everything. – Gates has successfully changed his image over the years from a geek to corporate leader and philanthropist.

CIOs need to change their image from just being technology leader to leaders who understand business and can apply their strategic IT and business skills to the wider business.

6. Successful innovation and success in general may be built on failure: Yep, Gate’s has constantly had Microsoft innovating along. Currently though, as many large IT businesses employ smarter and smarter employees, time will judge who can innovate the most and bring to market technologies that have ‘stickiness.’

The question these companies have to ask themselves is that can employing ‘smarter’ employees stop the next Google , or Microsoft from raising its head?

For those who have been following my blog, I mentioned this ‘war’ state in Google Apps – The myth, hype and reality , Weather bulletin – Google Cloud and icy Microsoft downpour & Search wars – Past, Present and future – Bing, Google or new entrant?

Microsoft has proved that failure can lead to success and continues to innovate by investing in many technologies. Some will inevitably fail while others maybe huge successes. Many businesses lack of innovation is due to their fear of failures.

7. Be ‘shrewd’ and keep the team on its ‘toes.’ – Gate’s, is known for his sharp cross examination of employees who present new ideas, innovations etc.

He analyses information quite quickly and gets to the bottom of the matter at a rapid pace. Employees have criticised this approach and associated quick, sharp, snappy analysis that at times is uncomfortable (in employee’s views). These qualities of Gate’s have enabled Microsoft to dominate personal computers (PCs). CIOs need to understand employee perspectives and ‘effectively quiz’ their teams on solutions being proposed.

8. Ruthlessly protect your ‘budget.’ – According to Matt Richey, ‘Even with its billions upon billions in cash, Microsoft is as frugal as Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s a company that buys canned weenies for food, not shrimp. Until last year (1999), even Bill Gates and his second-in-command Steve Ballmer flew coach. (For scheduling reasons, the company purchased its first corporate jet.)

Bucking the trend of most large, wealthy corporations, Microsoft remains in start-up mode where tight budgets are the rule. When you sit back and think about it, this frugality is less surprising and even explain how a company can come to accumulate such great hoards of cash.’

9. ‘Stop’ the ‘mad bureaucracy’ – I have mentioned this before in a post (can’t think of which one though) and it gets reiterated again by Microsoft. As Matt said, ‘The plague of most big companies is bureaucracy and stupid rules. Thielen gives the example of an un-named high-tech company that sent a four-page memo to all of its employees on proper security badge procedure, including infinitesimal details on how and where to wear the badge.

To that, Thielen states, “Does Microsoft manage to avoid this type of inane garbage? By and large, yes.” Unlike most companies, Microsoft actually assumes its employees are smart. Rules at Microsoft are few and far between, and the ones that exist tend to make sense. Having only a few important, logical rules means that employees actually remember and follow them.

Some Sources of Information and further reading:

How to be the next Bill Gates

Former MS employee recalls Bill Gates’ management style

The 12 Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management

Fiedler Model and Level 4 leadership

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About mubbisherahmed
I am passionate about IT and its ability to deliver cost effective, value for money solutions that can enhance performance and in many cases provide competitive advantage by using a range of solutions and approaches in innovative ways.

3 Responses to Bill Gates (Chairman Microsoft) management style and CIOs

  1. mubbisherahmed says:

    Lloyd Johnson said the following on a social media site:

    I think that can only facilitate and improve more technology

    I replied:

    Lloyd, thanks for your comment. Would you like to elaborate a bit more, please? It would be good to hear a little bit more regarding your view. Thanks.

    • mubbisherahmed says:

      Lloyd Johnson added the following:

      Ahmed, in a situation where you have 10 smart guys and the are good in scripting, the can do the work of 50 people, now you see, i am currently working in a Telecom company as a Unix Admin, we can do the job of 100 people and we are just 3 in Nigeria, that is why if the company hire smart guys that are good in many area the are only improving technology and make the stronger

      I replied:

      Lloyd, thanks for your explanation and hope you enjoy being the ‘supermen’ of the unix team 😎

  2. Pingback: Bill Gates – Chairman Microsoft “Management Style and CIOs”

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