After checking email and the like, I made my way to the opening reception, held at the Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony.
It’s a beautiful space, and Microsoft does know how to throw a party. There was a 16-piece band, tons of happy people, plenty of good food, and in general a festive and upbeat mood. I saw a lot of colleagues and met a lot of new ones, and to a one, they had one question for me: What do you make of the rumors about Yahoo and Microsoft hooking up?
Well, after you discuss that one with five or six folks, the standard back and forth starts to get old. And then, BOOM, it hit me. It’s time for Microsoft to step out of its skin. Get out of its box. Quit the fight with Google, but don’t lose it. Instead, redefine the game.
In short, it’s time for Microsoft to stop being just a technology company, and start being….General Electric.
This is how I came to this admittedly ill informed and entirely speculative conclusion: I was talking to a senior person in Microsoft’s sales organization, and he/she (preserving anonymity) asked an important question: do you think it’d even be possible to merge Yahoo and Microsoft’s radically distinct cultures?
I thought about that for a moment. He/she had a point: Getting the two companies to play well together would be a monumental task. But then it hit me: This just might be the wrong question! Why does Microsoft have to be a technology company? Why can’t, instead, it be General Electric?
Imagine a Microsoft that commits to the media business the way that GE has – it bought NBC. Microsoft can buy Yahoo, and simply claim that its media play is, well, called Yahoo! Now, Terry Semel may not like that, but I sense Bob Wright got over it, just as Terry was OK with Warner Studios being part of Time Warner. The central question vexing Microsoft as it competes with Google, the ultimate technology-driven company, is whether Google is supplanting Microsoft as …. the ultimate technology driven company.
Well, that fight can continue, under the leadership of Ray Ozzie in Microsoft’s Software division, which makes Windows, Office, Live, and all that.
But Microsoft has twice the market cap and four times the cash of Google, and right now, it can step into a far larger role than Google can – the role of multinational conglomerate. But if it keeps trying to win the game at the level of its current foe, it might not be able to win.
After all, GE started with the light bulb, and went from there. Microsoft started with DOS….
In short, it strikes me that to win, Microsoft might need to become bigger than the industry it helped create. There are new markets – and old – to conquer in turbines, appliances, and lord knows what else. I wonder what the market would make of such a move?
Just a late night JAM thought. What do you think?