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Veteran Microsoft Insiders Criticize Top Management

Microsoft’s problem lies in its management and organizational culture. At least, that’s the opinion of several veteran ex-Microsoft employees who could spend hours discussing Microsoft’s issues.

Fortune recently spent weeks tracking down various ex-Microsoft employees in order to better understand their reasons for leaving the company.

Corey Salka, who worked for Microsoft from 1992 to 2009, claims that the antitrust fight of the ’90s forever changed Microsoft. Corey also points to the humiliation employees felt from Apple’s “I’m a Mac” ad campaign: “That would have been inconceivable in the 1990s.”

Philip Su, who worked for more Microsoft for over a decade, feels that the workforce is less motivated because Microsoft has lost its “mojo.” This is in part due to Microsoft’s share price being stuck at $25 for nearly a decade. Stock options and various other performance related bonuses do not have the same motivational effect compared to other companies such as Apple, Facebook, or Google.

More importantly, many ex-employees criticize Ballmer’s leadership of the company. A former 15 year middle manager of Microsoft claims that “there’s this sense that under his direction, the company has really lost its way.”

Recent Glassdoor ratings also paint a dim picture for Ballmer’s approval within the company. Just 40 percent of current Microsoft employees, down from 46% last year, approve of their CEO when asked the simple question: “Do you approve of the way your CEO is leading the company?”

Ballmer is hesitant to bring about major change to Microsoft’s cash cows, Office and Windows. Some of our readers may remember Microsoft’s attempt to build a radical, non-Windows tablet device code-named “Courier.” Robbie Bach, ex-chief of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division, was in charge of that project. According to an earlier article this week by Fortune, after Bach introduced the concept to Ballmer, Ballmer quickly threw down the gauntlet and refused any extra funding for the project due to the device being unnecessary. Bach would leave the company a few months after the the decision.

What is clear from the dissension both within Microsoft and from its ex-employees is that change is critical in order for the company to stand a chance against its rivals and to make its way back to the top of the industry. With smartphones being the most prevalent technology these days, and with the continuing rise in popularity of tablets, Microsoft risks falling behind due to their conservative nature.

James Whittaker, who joined Microsoft in the mid-90’s and is now a prominent figure in the software testing field, claims that Microsoft’s core problem lies in the fact that they’re still heavily focused on Windows: “All their internal machinery is still pointed toward Windows. Windows always has to be first and the web is second. So the entire company is pointed at a platform becoming increasingly irrelevant.” It’s looking ever more apparent that Ballmer’s lack of flexibility and his desire to protect the “protect the legacy (and legacy businesses) he inherited from founder and friend Bill Gates” is leading to a critical junction point in Microsoft’s future that will decide their ultimate path.

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