Microsoft president to retire, former Macromedia CEO to take his place

In a sign that Microsoft will indeed be marching to a new and different drum after Bill Gates exits the scene, its Business Division President will step down, and the former head of the company that created Flash will take his spot.

He was not President of Microsoft for all that long, but Jeff Raikes has easily been as much a part of the character of his company as Steve Ballmer. Having joined the company 27 years ago to forge what today could be considered its most successful and powerful product line after Windows, Microsoft Office, Raikes helped bring the "suits" into Microsoft.

He also helped change the public image of the company from one whose management sat back with their feet on the table playing handheld video games, to one whose keen business sense was a textbook lesson for modern American industry.

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Raikes was absolutely not a showman, though he did show up at Microsoft events and looked a little out of place in whatever the casual-business uniform would happen to be at the time -- polo shirts and jeans or jeans shirts and Dockers. But when he talked to businesses or to analysts, he always gave the impression that there was something going on upstairs in his mind.

But he has only been President of the Business Division for about a year, having gracefully ascended to that post from a group vice presidency where he led the product suite he helped forge, Microsoft Office. Raikes replaced Jim Allchin, a man who was born to wear denim, and who was very much at ease at the big Microsoft trade shows.

Allchin had announced his retirement well in advance, gracefully paving the way for Raikes to assume his post without throwing off Microsoft's delicate balance. A similar transition is being planned now for Raikes' exit, which will actually take place at the end of September.

Assuming Raikes' post will be Stephen Elop, perhaps as different a personality from Raikes' as Raikes' is from Allchin's. Though up until today he was the Chief Operating Officer of Juniper Networks, Elop's true glory came at Macromedia, during the period where the Flash graphical online display tool rocketed to dominant status on the Web.

Elop became its CEO in 2005, after working up the ranks in 1998 after having proven skeptics completely wrong, and convincing an underdeveloped market that Flash and Dreamweaver could be considered tools for generating a successful business.

That formula could be exactly what Microsoft needs at this point in its history, as the intellectual development of today's existing Office components is considered largely complete. Microsoft has a growing arsenal of largely unknown or underappreciated tools, including Silverlight, that might not have a chance of taking off so long as they are targeted toward the developer community entirely. Under Elop's leadership, such tools could conceivably be modulated for business purposes.

Imagine PowerPoint, for example -- the single least changed component in the Office suite over the past decade -- being reformulated as a business presentation tool.

But Elop was also largely responsible for what remains Macromedia's single most controversial decision: to become acquired by Adobe. At first he was happy with the deal, knowing full well it would knock him out of the center chair he'd just recently been promoted to.

In a conversation with BusinessWeek in June 2006, after the acquisition of his company was completed, Elop admitted he loved being CEO of a company...and would really love to do that again sometime. "My situation is somewhat unique, in that there are opportunities for me to lead companies as I had begun to do at Macromedia as its CEO. That period of time was the most rewarding of my career, and I would like the opportunity to do that again."

Curiously, Elop was hired by Juniper almost exactly one year ago, which could lead to 20/20-hindsight speculation that Juniper wasn't his first choice. It's also worth noting here that Elop is 44, and Steve Ballmer is 51.

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