There's been a lot of talk this week about Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer's future. The company's share price has stagnated over the past decade, and people are getting nervous.
On the face of it, Microsoft looks to be doing OK. Its share of the operating system market is strong, the Office apps are still bringing in cash and it's sitting on a ton of money even after spending $8.5bn on Skype.
But the company also looks to be being blindsided by technology. Cloud computing is making the operating system irrelevant, and companies like Google are providing good-enough online versions of Microsoft's apps.
Microsoft also took the unusual step of publically correcting its chief executive over the release date of Windows 8 this week, and a hedge fund manager has asked for Ballmer to step down. We suspect that, unless Ballmer can pull something very good out of his hat in the next year, he's for the chopping block.
So what follows is a list of the company he may or may not be keeping. Some of the names below were forced out, and some chose to walk. None left of their own accord, however.
Honourable Mention: Henry Nicholas
Iain Thomson: We've got to be slightly careful about this one, but with such a good story it'd be a crime to leave it off the list.
Broadcom was seen by many as the possible next Intel. Co-founder Henry Nicholas and chief technology officer Henry Samueli set the company up in a spare room in the early 1990s and produced some amazingly good chip designs. Most recently, it released the first 100Gbit single-chip switch silicon.
But Nicholas was forced to step down after salacious charges were brought against him as part of a federal investigation into financial manipulation. There were rumours of a specially constructed room at his home for ‘parties', and allegations that he smoked so many drugs on a flight that the pilot was forced to use oxygen to stay sober.
The company ended up admitting to overstating its returns by over $2bn, but Nicholas was formerly cleared of all charges. He's since devoted a lot of time to philanthropy, but we salute him for giving us some damn good gossip.
Shaun Nichols: Fortunately our list is only about unceremonious departures; whether the person was found guilty is not part of the criteria.
At the time of their dismissal, Broadcom execs Henry Nicholas and William Ruehle were charged with crimes including stock fraud, maintaining a 'drug warehouse' and hiring prostitutes to help seal business deals.
While they were eventually cleared of the charges, news of the dismissal and the circumstances around it generated plenty of great headlines and got the entire industry talking. Certainly the story goes down as one of the great exit tales in the history of the business.
Honourable Mention: Owen Van Natta
Shaun Nichols: We put this one down as an honourable mention because we're sure Van Natta never really had a chance. The former Facebook executive was brought in to lead MySpace just as the company was settling into its death spiral.
With Facebook firmly in control of the social networking market, Van Natta was tasked with overseeing the rebirth of MySpace as a portal for independent music acts and striking advertising and partnership deals to keep the site afloat.
Not surprisingly, the effort failed. Van Natta stepped down after less than a year and parent company News Corp is now looking to dump MySpace.
Iain Thomson: Talk about a poisoned chalice. Van Natta must be regretting ever picking up the phone from the recruitment consultant.
In the end he walked from MySpace (very quickly, it must be said) rather than being pushed, but it was a close run thing. He did News Corp's bidding, including firing a third of staff, but I suspect he told the board some things they'd rather not have heard and they chose to get rid of him rather than face the reality that they'd bought a pup.
Van Natta has since gone on to great things at Zynga. Sometimes it is better to walk while you still can.
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