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Muglia Stakes His Claim in Redmond

Rarely do we dive into the intricacies, dramas and ongoing story lines of personnel moves at Microsoft. The org chart in Redmond tends to resemble an ant farm -- there's tons of activity, but trying to follow the activities of one particular participant in the chaos is nearly impossible. Or so it seems sometimes, anyway.

But this week, one of those executive stories popped up that was important enough to write about here because it could have an impact on a post-Steve Ballmer Microsoft universe. Bob Muglia, Redmond magazine's January cover subject and a longtime Microsoft executive, got a bump up to president of the company's insanely successful server and tools business.

The promotion, following on the heels -- well, sort of, if heels hang around for half-a-year or so -- of the departure of Kevin Johnson, who had a similar role at Microsoft, is the culmination of a comeback of sorts for Muglia. Ballmer actually demoted Muglia back in 2001, and the whole server and tools business actually went away, getting sucked into another department in 2007 before roaring back about six months later.

Muglia is now one of four presidents at Microsoft, and -- along with Stephen Elop, who runs the business division -- he's the guy whose decisions are most likely to affect Microsoft partners. The server and tools business division contains the heart of Microsoft's enterprise offerings, the stuff that has pretty consistently put money in the pockets of both Microsoft and its channel members over the last 15 years or so.

In that sense, partners are in good hands. Muglia's a Microsoft vet, to be sure, but he doesn't have his head in the sand when it comes to innovation. In fact (please tell us you see this coming...because here it comes), he's got his head in the cloud. Cloud computing, that is! (Thank you, we'll be here all week. Well, until tomorrow, actually.)

Anyway, Muglia's playing a critical role in the development of Azure, Microsoft's Software-as-a-Service platform and arguably the future of the company and the industry. (Check out Redmond's January 2009 -- how timely are we? -- story on Azure and a Q&A between Muglia and Redmond Editor Ed Scannell here.) So what we're talking about is a guy who knows Microsoft and knows the industry, and -- here comes the important part -- has a vision for where both should go. As far as we can tell, anyway.

In a broader sense, Muglia's promotion has to set him up as a favorite to succeed Ballmer when Ballmer does finally step down. Ray Ozzie hasn't shown much of an inclination to take over as CEO -- he's more of a tech guy -- so Muglia or maybe somebody like gung-ho COO Kevin Turner has the look of an heir to the throne at this point.

And that brings us to another thought, if you'll allow us to digress a tad (and when haven't you allowed that before?). This is a time of transition in our young industry. The founders of the companies that have made the industry what it is today -- except for maybe IBM and HP, which have been around forever -- are either stepping down or figuring out how they're going to step down. And it's hard to say what the world is going to be like without them.

There's no guarantee of success for any company in any industry no matter how dominant a position it holds at any given time -- right, auto makers and investment banks? -- and we'd do well to remember that Compaq, Wang and digital were once powerhouses on the technology scene. (Also, let's remember what happened to Apple when Steve Jobs thought he was finished there. We refer you once again to the cinematic masterpiece Pirates of Silicon Valley.)

That's why we're writing about Bob Muglia today, along with everybody else. Muglia could be, and probably already is, one of the guys who is going to shape not only Microsoft but also our whole industry -- and, on some peripheral level, our lives -- over the next decade or so. That makes him a big deal, and it makes his decisions important. Is he the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?

Well, he -- and his fellow Microsoft executives, as well as a lot of other folks in top posts around the tech world -- might very well be. Although we're guessing that Muglia would prefer to be known as the first Bob Muglia rather than the next Bill Gates. And he just might get that chance.

Send your take on Microsoft's executive moves and the future of industry leadership to lpender@rcpmag.com. We'd love to hear from you.

Posted by Lee Pender on 01/07/2009 at 1:22 PM


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