10 IT Industry Figures Who Stirred Things Up This Year

Stirring Up Controversy In The IT Industry

Every year, there are executives in the IT industry whose swagger and bombast manifests itself with resounding significance. Sometimes it's a good type of significance, other times not. Then there are the executives who play a behind the scenes role, pulling the strings in a way that is no less impactful to the corporate strategy.

The usual suspects are well known, but there are also some surprises in this year's list. Following are 10 IT industry executives who pulled no punches and weren't afraid to call things as they saw them.

10. Stephen Elop

Back in February, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop penned one of the more poetic internal company memos in IT industry history, describing the precarious situation his company faced as akin to standing on a "burning platform" with advancing threats on all sides. Elop used this imagery to illustrate the need for Nokia to reinvent itself in the face of competition from the likes of Apple and Google, and he also spoke of embarking on a "huge effort to transform our company."

There have been many difficult decisions for Elop in the intervening months, like cutting 7,000 jobs in April and moving Symbian OS development to Accenture. But Elop's biggest gamble has been to partner with Microsoft on Windows Phone 7, which has been slow to gain traction in the hyper-competitive market.

Although Microsoft is reportedly paying Nokia billions to develop and promote Windows Phone 7 devices, Elop and Nokia are still on that burning platform, even if it's burning a little less hot than before.

9. Eric Schmidt

He's no longer Google's CEO, but Eric Schmidt, in his role of chairman, is still taking the fight to competitors in characteristically outspoken fashion. In November, fed up with Acer, HTC, and Samsung settling with Microsoft over Android patent claims, Schmidt suggested that the software giant is siccing its legal team on these firms in order to slow Android's progress.

’Microsoft is not telling the truth on this issue, and they are using tactics to scare people because they are scared of the success of Android,’ Schmidt told The Wall Street Journal.

In early December at the Le Web conference in Paris, Schmidt declared that "Android is ahead of the iPhone now," and noted that Android is outpacing the iPhone in terms of units sold, price and number of vendor partners. He also predicted that this trend will continue to become more pronounced in 2012.

8. Michael Dell

In August after HP announced it was considering a spin-off or sale of its PC business, Dell Computer's founder and chief executive could hardly conceal his glee. "Goodbye HP. Sorry you don’t want to be in PCs any more, But we do more than ever," Dell tweeted in response to the news.

At the Dell World conference in October, Dell said he planned to lure HP partners who were sick of the uncertainty. "The door is open [for attacking HP," Dell told attendees. "We're running through the door with vigor. And we're running with you partners ... It's a great time for us, for Dell, and the channel, to go together."

7. Carol Bartz

Carol Bartz was fired from her position as CEO of Yahoo in September, and the always-outspoken executive had a few choice words for Yahoo's board afterward.

"These people f---ed me over," Bartz said in an interview with Fortune after her dismissal.

Bartz also didn't mince words in an e-mail she sent to Yahoo's 14,000 employees informing them of the news. "I am very sad to tell you that I've just been fired over the phone by Yahoo's Chairman of the Board," she said in the e-mail.

Bartz, who joined Yahoo in January 2009, was unable to reverse the company's downward slide during her time at the helm, but it wasn't for a lack of passion.

6. Gianfranco Lanci

Former Acer CEO Gianfranco Lanci left the company in March after an impasse with the company's board. A couple of months later, it emerged that Lanci left because of a difference of opinion over the future direction the company should take.

Lanci wanted to step up Acer's focus on engineering and mobility, and to achieve this, he felt it necessary to expand the company's reach beyond Taiwan. However, Acer's board didn't agree.

’At that time, I already saw if we want to become a major player in this new world, we needed to do certain investments, mainly on software and on smartphones and tablets, on touch,’ Lanci told AllThingsD in May.

Acer hasn't been doing so hot since Lanci's departure. In September, he joined Lenovo as a consultant to help with the integration of that company's $670 million acquisition of German PC company Medion AG.

5. Steve Ballmer

At Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in July, CEO Steve Ballmer departed from his usual cheerleading role for just a few seconds while describing Microsoft's slow progress with Windows Phone 7. "Phones? We've gone from very small to very small," Ballmer said in his WPC keynote. "But it's been a heck of a year."

Ballmer also raised eyebrows in May when he referenced Windows 8 by name in a speech at the Microsoft Developer Forum in Tokyo. Microsoft executives had previously used the coy-yet-clumsy "next version of Windows." Microsoft PR reps tried to claim that Ballmer had misspoken, but the cat was already out of the bag, so to speak.

4. Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook partnered with Skype in July to embed video calling into the fabric of the social network, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg eloquently described the tie-up as "super awesome." His excitement was understandable: With 750 million Facebook users and 170 million Skype users Facebook video launched with an installed base of around 1 billion, putting pressure on both Google and Cisco in the video space.

However, Facebook spent the past year, as it has the past few years, dealing with fallout from privacy issues. In late November, Zuckerberg apologized for Facebook not keeping previous privacy promises to users, while also acknowledging that Facebook had agreed to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over its privacy transgressions.

Meanwhile, Zuckerberg's attentions in the coming year will be directed toward Facebook's IPO, which is already shaping up to be one of the biggest stories of 2012.

3. Larry Ellison

You can pretty much plug Ellison into this list every year. It's just how he rolls. And this year, Ellison reserved his most pointed barbs for ex-partner HP.

Ellison in September claimed that Autonomy, which HP acquired for $10.3 billion in August, had first approached Oracle before deciding to accept HP's offer. "Autonomy was shopped to us," Ellison said in a Q1 earnings conference call. "We looked at the price and thought it was absurdly high. We had no interest in making the Autonomy acquisition."

But the big battle between Oracle and HP centered on the former's decision in March to stop developing apps that run on Itanium servers. The companies traded lawsuits in the intervening months, and Ellison didn't make any direct comments on the matter.

However, Ellison's over-the-top style was evident in Oracle court documents filed in November, in which the company accused HP of paying Intel to keep Itanium alive, calling the situation "a remake of 'Weekend at Bernie's.'"


2. Marc Benioff

Already well-established as one of the IT industry's most fervent pot-stirrers, Benioff stepped up his game at Salesforce.com's Cloudforce event in December, ripping Oracle's cloud computing strategy while also taking time to heap some derision on Microsoft's cloud CRM efforts.

In October, after Oracle moved his OpenWorld keynote to the morning after the big party, Benioff railed against his former company's closed approach to doing business.

"You can see this is a different message than Oracle OpenWorld. It is not a message of proprietary mainframes," Benioff said in a hastily rescheduled appearance at a nearby hotel. "This is not a message of closed systems. This is a message of open systems, of a cloud-based world that is social, that is mobile."

1. Leo Apotheker

No executive shook things up more than ex-HP CEO Leo Apotheker, who was canned in September after just 11 months on the job.

It was during Apotheker's watch that HP's board made the decision to explore a spin-off or sale of the Personal Systems Group. Channel partners didn't relish either outcome, but they were most upset by HP's decision to make this public. They weren't crazy about HP's decision to pull the plug so quickly on the TouchPad, either.

Meanwhile, Apotheker, in his earnestness to remake HP with a software and services focus, was also blamed for overpaying for Autonomy. The month of August was when it all fell apart for Apotheker, and it's darn near impossible to find a single partner today who's lamenting the fact that he's no longer in charge.