About two weeks ago, on August 23, Microsoft told the public that its CEO, Steve Ballmer, would retire within the next 12 months. In the meantime, the board of directors would appoint a new CEO.
Ballmer has worked at Microsoft since 1980 when he became its 30th employee. He was Bill Gates’s roommate at Harvard and they were close friends, so it was no surprise that he succeeded Gates as CEO in 2000 when the latter decided to step aside.
The results produced during his tenure at the head of the company were varied, and many people have been calling for his removal due to some less than stellar decisions made at Microsoft. He allowed rivals such as Apple and Google pull ahead of Microsoft in new markets such as the mobile platform, and the company’s public image has changed into a slow-moving behemoth under his watch. When Ballmer inherited Microsoft, it had been at the peak of its power. Now, it is far from that.
However, a majority of this was not Ballmer’s fault. He had assumed command of a company entangled in antitrust issues that began under Gates, and he could not possibly have fixed the situation quickly. With the arrival of Windows 8 and the rebranding of Microsoft as a devices and services company, it seems that Ballmer finally overcame these hurdles and was able to share his view of the future of Microsoft. It seems that he finally had his chance to shine.
Mr. Ballmer had originally vowed to stay at the company until his youngest son left for college (that would be in 2018); however, he explained his decision to leave early in a prepared statement.
“There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” Ballmer said. “We have embarked on a new strategy with a new organization and we have an amazing Senior Leadership Team. My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our company’s transformation to a devices and services company. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction.”
-Microsoft press release, Aug. 23
In other words, since Ballmer recently overhauled Microsoft’s strategy to be focused on devices and services, he decided that it was better to get a new leader in now instead of changing in four years, in the middle of the implementation of the new strategy.
His decision to leave prompts the question: who will succeed him? There is no clear frontrunner, but we do know that the Board (including chairman Bill Gates) is leaning to choosing someone from outside the company; that is, someone who has never worked at Microsoft before. That way, they would get a fresh perspective on the company from someone who is more capable of leading it into the future, instead of sticking to the way Microsoft has done things in the past.
Whether you love him or hate him, it is clear that he was a competent CEO of Microsoft, and he laid the groundwork for what could possibly make his beloved company relevant again and drive it into the future.