Back when Microsoft was the biggest name in technology, CEO Bill Gates leveled an attack on the auto industry: If carmakers were as innovative as computer companies, he said, a car would cost just $27.
That was 16 years ago.
Today, PC sales are falling as consumers show a preference for mobile devices, and Microsoft is struggling. Meanwhile, U.S. car companies are resurgent. General Motors, the world's No. 2 carmaker, is gaining ground on No. 1 Toyota. And Ford, after 16 quarters in the black, expects to see $8 billion-plus in profit this year.
It's a testament to the changing times that Microsoft is reportedly considering Ford Motor Co. chief Alan Mulally as CEO Steve Ballmer's replacement when he steps down in less than a year.
Mulally says he's made no changes to his plan to stay at Ford through the end of 2014. But he hasn't denied rumors that Microsoft Corp. is courting him. Ford's board of directors will gather in Dearborn, Mich., starting Wednesday. One of the items on the agenda will be a discussion of Mulally's future at the company.
Here are the pros and cons of Mulally taking the wheel at Microsoft, a company whose stock price has been stuck in neutral for more than a decade:
HE HAS FRESH EYES: As an outsider, Mulally could identify problems an insider might not see, like Microsoft's culture of interdivisional competitiveness or the fragmentation of its businesses. While its lucrative enterprise-computing services rival its bread-and-butter Windows business in revenue, Microsoft is losing billions chasing Google with its own Bing search engine. The company has also booked hundreds of millions in losses on its Surface tablet computer.
In contrast, Mulally helped Ford become the only Detroit automaker to survive the recession without a government bailout. He forced engineers to start building global cars like the Focus instead of wasting billions making individual cars for each region. He sold or shuttered brands such as Volvo, Jaguar and Mercury, and plowed cash into cars with edgier designs -- such as the Fusion sedan -- even in the midst of the downturn.
He told feuding executives to embrace the new plan -or leave. Most stayed and learned to appreciate Mulally's weekly meetings and focus on cooperation and transparency. (continued...)
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