"He's always been my first choice," conservative talk-show host and former gubernatorial candidate John Carlson says of Bob Herbold, the former Microsoft executive considering a run at governor for the GOP. Carlson is not alone. President George W. Bush, among others, is said to be encouraging Herbold to get into the race.
The appeal is obvious. The Republicans would be able to capitalize on Microsoft's cachet and cast Herbold, in Carlson's words, as "one of the most effective and capable executives" of a company that has had unbounded success. He also happens to have loads of his own money to put into the race.
But if Herbold is coated in Microsoft glamour, it is a bit of an odd fit. Although he has a Ph.D. in computer science and worked in information technology for a time at Procter & Gamble, the company where he spent most of his career, his position at Microsoft as its chief operations officer centered on nuts-and-bolts management rather than the product development and aggressive sales strategy that made the company what it is. It was his status as a traditional, seasoned business executive that was thought to be the reason that Microsoft hired him in 1994, at a time when the company had grown so large that it began to value managers as well as techies. Herbold, now 60, was the reigning grown-up until 2001, when he left the company.
So how much of Microsoft's success is due to Herbold? He gives himself a pretty large role. He credits himself with "moving the company from $4 billion of revenue to $24 billion," while at the same time improving profitability sevenfold. He undoubtedly did, as he says, help the company cut costs and avoid the kind of spending that normally accompanies rapid growth. But he better be careful lest he seems to grab too much of the praise for a business that was already wildly successful when he arrived. "I don't take sole credit for this," Herbold wrote of the increased profitability in an article last year in the Harvard Business Review. That's something, anyway. N.S. E