Pacquiao, Lebron, and … Microsoft

Is Microsoft more like Pacquiao or Lebron – and why should we care? 

As a longtime Cavaliers season ticketholder, I have spent more time than I should have trying to divine what could possibly have been going through Lebron’s mind when he decided to “take his talents to South Beach.” Popular wisdom tells us that he wanted a ring – he was simply pursuing his longstanding professional goal. Recently though, I have come to believe that Wade did not attract Lebron with the promise of achieving his professional ambition– he actually gave Lebron an excuse to run away from something bigger still – an opportunity to transcend his sport and become a true leader.

For those of you who don’t know Manny (Pacman) Pacquiao, he is arguably the best professional boxer of all time. He is an eight-division world champion and the first boxer in history to win ten world titles in eight different weight divisions. …And, most notably, he has emerged as a national hero inside his native Philippines. In fact, he has parlayed his singular athletic success into a burgeoning political career – and was recently elected to congress in a landslide victory. Police report that there is a measurable drop in crime when Pacquiao fights; everyone watches. He has embraced his larger role as a transformational leader – in fact, in the lead up to his latest title bout, he confounded his trainers by jumping on a plane to campaign for Harry Reid’s reelection campaign – he wants it all and he is willing to take on the multitude of pressures of maintaining his world champion boxing status and serving as a societal role model, a cultural icon, and a political leader.

Consider this – if Pacquiao were to leave his homeland, his influence in the Philippines would be erased and could never be replicated (even if he returned). If “the Pacman,” in his secret inner heart, was afraid or unwilling to take on the mantle of true leadership that comes with transcending his sport; he could find a safe way out by manufacturing an excuse to immigrate from the Philippines – perhaps to focus on his boxing or some other myopic rationale.

Let’s go back to the one time “Chosen One,” Lebron James. He was born and raised in Northeast Ohio, went right from high school into the NBA, and had played (until “The Decision”) his entire career in Cleveland. The pride, the energy, and admiration that Lebron garnered in this part of the country was off the charts – not to mention the hundreds of millions of $$ he brought to this hard hit economy. 

Now consider this – if Lebron’s decision had been to stay in Cleveland and commit to building both the Cavs and the region, he would have committed himself to Parcquiao’s journey – the expectation that he be more than an athlete would have been unavoidable (and inescapable). I think this young man could not hack it – he did not want to walk away – he wanted to run as fast as he could from this burden – a burden that he never wanted in the first place.

What’s this have to do with Microsoft? (stick with me here)

Microsoft is the world champion of business and desktop software. Their unparalleled success has fostered a large, dependent community of partners, developers, and consumers (a community that is in some ways analogous to Northeast Ohio or the Philippines). This community looks to Microsoft as more than just a software supplier – their personal and professional skills are highly dependent on their MSFT-centric skills – that means both revenue and self-worth are also tied up (dependent upon) MSFT. MSFT has transcended the role of software supplier (somewhat awkwardly in many cases one has to admit) to become a social/societal leader.

Now, it’s no secret that MSFT took a shellacking in the mobile phone market – but rather than cede this brave new world, they have come back hard with Windows Phone 7 and a strategy that includes a laser focus on the developer experience. With a steep hill to climb and their reputation on the line, Microsoft is not abandoning the faithful or the strengths that made them what they are.

No excuses – and no Lebron. Microsoft is the Pacman of the Smartphone.