Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced he'll be stepping down in 2014.
By Matt Whitlock
August 23, 2013
The last few years have been transitional for Microsoft, transforming the company from a software maker into a devices and services company (that writes a ton of software). That transition led to a complete reorganization of the company, which now goes all the way to the top, apparently. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced he’ll be stepping down next year, relinquishing control of Microsoft to an unnamed successor after 13 years in the position.
“There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” said Ballmer in a letter to Microsoft employees. “My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our transformation to a devices and services company focused on empowering customers in the activities they value most. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction.”
Ballmer gives no explanation for his departure in his letter, leading some (including me) to wonder if this is what he wants or if the board is finally giving in to pressure from stockholders. A good number blame Ballmer for the stagnation in the company’s stock price since taking over from Bill Gates in 2000, as well as allowing the company to be rapidly surpassed in growth markets like smartphones and tablets.
Not adapting to the mobile market is ultimately a black mark for the current CEO (although arguably not entirely his fault thanks to all the anti-trust problems the company has had), but under Ballmer Microsoft has become a cash machine thanks to its amazing products and services for businesses. The rapid move to the cloud with products like Office 365 Windows Azure have done a lot to secure success for Microsoft in the future.
Ballmer’s personality has also led to several PR debacles for Microsoft. His on-stage antics, like stomping on an employee’s iPhone at an internal pep rally, led to many viral videos that are still referenced today. He also frequently didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut during public appearances early on, although he’s been much better about that in recent years. Despite that, there’s no other person on this planet who has been more committed to the company than Ballmer. With the position of CEO seen as a revolving door for quick personal gain around the tech industry, Ballmer has always had Microsoft’s interests at heart.
Ballmer’s departure is being met with mixed emotions. Those in the anti-Ballmer camp are giving high fives all around. In fact, the news has sent Microsoft’s stock price soaring this morning. Those who closely follow Microsoft aren’t exactly thrilled. Someone ultimately has to replace him, and there really isn’t anyone at Microsoft who seems ready to take the role of CEO.
The task of finding Microsoft’s third CEO is assigned to a special committee led by Bill Gates, Chuck Noski (chairman of the audit committee), Steve Luczo (chairman of the compensation committee), and John Thompson (lead independent director of the board). Going through the list of Microsoft stars, they’ve got their work cut out for them.
With that panel, there’s a great opportunity for Microsoft to have a bit of fun. I think the search should be televised and run like a season of America’s Got Talent. Give the four of them a buzzer to X out Microsoft hopefuls, then let America vote from there. Sure, there’s a good chance Major Nelson (aka Larry Hryb, Xbox LIVE) could wind up as CEO, but they could do worse.
No matter what, Microsoft is going to be a very different place next year, for better or worse… we’ll have to wait and see.