Is There a Best Background for an Enterprise Software Business Manager?

Justin Althoff is Microsoft’s President for the North American Market. Mr. Althoff was recently interviewed by Sterling Auty, Software Technology Analyst at JP Morgan. The interview took place on May 20, 2014, during JP Morgan’s Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. Mr. Althoff prefaced his remarks with some biographical notes: he has been at Microsoft for a little more than a year, spent 14 prior years at Oracle, and, before, at EMC. What is the significance of Mr. Althoff’s background, given his role at Microsoft?

I am asking this question for a couple of reasons:

  1. I spent seven years in the contract consulting and executive search business, from 1994 to the end of 2001. I placed a lot of talented individuals at IBM Corp, D.E. Shaw & Co., First Rain, and Duck (now On2). So I tend to listen as individuals recount background experiences
  2. I spent some time last week reviewing Salesforce.com’s most recent quarterly earnings webcast and took a look at the background of Salesforce’s current President and vice chairman, Mr. Keith Bloch, who, coincidentally, spent a lot of time at Oracle.

There is one other notion I have come to believe in, which is also motivating me to look further at the importance of background: this “truism” goes as follows: the same small set of people take on all of the senior responsibilities for software products targeted to specific markets (in this example, enterprise markets for productivity software). Any changes are really a matter of musical chairs. An example of this truism, at work are all of the ex Lotus sales folks, late of IBM, who somehow ended up at Microsoft selling SharePoint.

Bottom line? I’m not sold on the value implicit to following this “truism” for the businesses doing the hiring. When I consider Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics CRM as direct competitors, I do not take much heart identifying the same experience set, and, in all likelihood the same methods, and style, at work for each of the President’s heading up these organizations.

But I certainly understand the importance of familiarity with a market and its participants as a metric for judging the suitability of specific candidates to head up a software business like Microsoft North America. I am merely questioning what the right depth of this “familiarity” experience ought to be, especially when the role also requires, to a significant degree, a successful track record as someone who disrupted outdated IT approaches and solutions sometime in the past.

I am not sure I know the answer to this set of questions, but I am very comfortable pointing to them as important points of consideration for ISVs doing the hiring.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

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