Reuters’ Alastair Sharp has published a story saying that some investors are wondering whether it’s time for a change at the top of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, which is led by Mike Lazaridis (who founded the company in 1984) and Jim Balsillie (who’s been co-CEO since 1992). Sharp’s piece follows a flurry of debate last week about the future of Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s president and CEO, who’s been with the company since 1980 and has been CEO since 2000.
I’m not making any predictions about what’s going to happen at either company–except to note that lack of change is usually a more likely outcome than change in these situations, at least in the short term. But the stories got me thinking about the durability of many of the top executives in tech companies. I decided to graph out the management of a few major corporations.
This chart starts in 1975 and all the companies included have been around since at least the mid 1980s; the bars for each executive indicate that person’s tenure as president, CEO, and/or chairman of the board. (Click on the graphic for a larger, more legible version.)
For several reasons, it’s hard to grind this stuff down into an infographic. The roles of president, CEO, and chairman can vary wildly from company to company. (For instance, Steve Jobs was chairman of the board of Apple in the early 1980s and deeply involved with his company’s everyday management; Bill Gates is chairman of the board of Microsoft now, and isn’t.) I may have missed some folk who should be here–I’m not an expert on the changing of the guard at Oracle and HP.
Overall, though, I’m struck by how many major figures in the industry have stuck around for most of the history of the industry. In 1984, when the PC business was still just getting going, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Chuck Geschke, John Warnock, and Mike Lazaridis were all running the companies they’d founded. And in 2011 they all still have posts at those corporations, although some (Gates, Geschke, Warnock) are chairman of the board and removed from day-to-day affairs.)
The day will come when none of the people currently running these companies are involved with them in any way. But I bet it won’t come soon. Chances are pretty decent that some of them will hit forty years of service–I wonder if anyone will make it to a half-century?