SINGAPORE (Dec 17): Amid the huge selloff on Wall Street over the past two weeks, software behemoth Microsoft became the largest company in the world by market capitalisation once again, overtaking smartphone giant Apple and e-commerce supremo Amazon.com. The shuffle at the top of the technology sector may seem like a sign of times but the new world order of listed global corporates has more to do with just how much the market has punished Apple (whose stock is down 23% from its peak) and Amazon.com (down 17% from its peak) in recent weeks than anything Microsoft itself has done in terms of revenues or even profits.
Ironically, Microsoft was being written off as a has-been that could not do anything right just a few years ago. Its best days seemed over, and its shares were languishing, having gone nowhere for more than a decade when it was the world’s most valuable company. At its trough during the 2008 global financial crisis, Microsoft stock was down over 70% from its tech bubble peak. In late 2014, however, the Seattle-based company finally ousted founder Bill Gates’ Harvard dorm-mate Steve Ballmer as CEO and appointed self-effacing, low-key software engineer Satya Nadella as the head honcho. He swiftly began remaking Microsoft into a customer- focused firm betting on themes such as cloud computing and with a strong recurring subscription income stream. The stock has more than tripled since.
Unlike the late Steve Jobs of Apple, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos or Tesla’s Elon Musk, Nadella is no rock star CEO. He is as bland as they come. Yet, boring is the new sexy. Indeed, Microsoft has long been the embodiment of boring. For nearly a decade, rival Apple actually ran a series of TV ads featuring a buttoned-down PC guy and a cool Mac guy. But just as Apple’s market value touched a record US$1.1 trillion ($1.5 trillion) nearly three months ago, Microsoft was emerging as a steady come-from-behind runner in the race.