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6/1/2010
07:52 AM
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: What Is Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's #1 Competitive Statistic?

Microsoft spends more on R&D and earns more profit than any other tech company--but Ballmer's favorite stat is something else altogether.

Addressing a group of top executives recently at the Microsoft CEO Summit 2010, Steve Ballmer gave the 50,000-foot perspective on a number of subjects, including the global economy, the difficulty of measuring the impact of R&D, the worst mistakes he's made, cloud computing, Microsoft's new-product rollouts, and more.

So it really struck me that Ballmer also made sure to reveal at the very beginning of his talk that the competitive-analysis market-share statistic he tracks most closely is college recruitment:

"And when we talk to our employees about are we in good shape, it really comes down to five things, five things really, really matter," Ballmer said. "No. 1, are we getting the best talent? How is the talent pool? How are we doing? Do people want to come work here?

"Every year now in our sales meeting, the No. 1 market share statistic I go through is our win/loss rate for college recruits against what you might consider the obvious cast of characters who would be competing with us on college campuses, how are we doing? The answer, by the way, is we have a disproportionately high market share."

Ballmer went on quantify what he means by "a disproportionately high market share," noting that "we win 70, 75, 80 percent of the time when we go up against even the best technology companies in terms of college recruiting."

I'm going to make two assumptions about that statement: first, that Ballmer is telling the whole truth and nothing but on the 70%-80% success rate—since no further details or third-party research was released, that's the best we've got. And second, that the competing recruiters from "even the best technology companies" include those from Google and Apple.

In the media feeding frenzy of the past few weeks as Apple's market cap has surpassed that of Microsoft, we've been treated (mistreated?) to a relentless barrage of caricatures of Microsoft as the stodgy old-fashioned fuddy-duddy trying to make a go of it against the newly ascendant and ultracool arbiters of everything having to do with style, lifestyle, fashion, technology, and social interaction over at Apple.

And then there's Google, which seems to be not only the world leader in online search and online advertising and a rising force in productivity apps, but also a coming player in energy production, mobility, cooling technology that's also cool, and TV.

Heck—seems like Microsoft should be thrilled and honored just to be mentioned in the same breath as those immortals, right?

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So how then is it that Microsoft is winning the battles for the hearts and minds and employment contracts of three out of four of the brightest computer-science and engineering and marketing and MBA talent on the planet?

Well, from the department of "things are not always what they appear," here are a couple of points Ballmer also addressed in his presentation to the CEO Summit: Microsoft's enormous R&D budget, and the virtues of patience. And I think we can safely say that patience is not a term on concept frequently associated over the years with the hyper-cranked Ballmer:

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