“This is an emotional and difficult thing for me to do. I take this step in the best interests of the company I love; it is the thing outside of my family and closest friends that matters to me most.”
— Steve Ballmer, announcing his plans to retire as Microsoft CEO within the next 12 months. He is 57 years old.
In the end, the boisterous, excitable and passionate chief executive of the world’s largest software company admits it’s time for new blood. At the helm since 2000, when he took over for Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Ballmer has been under fire for a while. Microsoft has struggled on different fronts, including search, the Web, PCs and operating systems and mobile — markets owned by Silicon Valley companies.
There’s no shortage of adjectives that describe Ballmer, including those he used to describe himself and Microsoft, such as “tenacious” and “irrepressible.” Did we also mention determined? Two years ago, in response to an investor’s call for new leadership, he said, “you tell me if I lack energy, conviction or we’re not driving all the change we need to drive!”
In the memo announcing his exit, Ballmer reminds employees and the world that Microsoft remains quite profitable and has a bunch of cash, thank you.
We have grown from $7.5 million to nearly $78 billion since I joined Microsoft, and we have grown from employing just over 30 people to almost 100,000. I feel good about playing a role in that success and having committed 100 percent emotionally all the way. We have more than 1 billion users and earn a great profit for our shareholders. We have delivered more profit and cash return to shareholders than virtually any other company in history.
But as Troy Wolverton wrote for SiliconBeat recently, Microsoft’s newest computer OS, Windows 8, has so far been a dud amid a PC industry slump. (As we wrote in November, Steven Sinofksy, the executive who oversaw Windows 8, left soon after its launch.) While Windows Phone is seeing some market gains, the company’s mobile push has failed to make much of a dent in the dominance of Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. (Mobile OS global market share in the second quarter, according to an IDC report released earlier this month: Android 79.3 percent, iOS 31.2 percent, Windows Phone 3.7 percent.)
Other Microsoft watchers and pundits have called for a change at the top for a while. We wrote about a book released early this year in which former company executive Joachim Kempin said Ballmer forced out managers who threatened his power; slammed the “lame duck board”; and said the company needed someone younger to lead the company in the age of social and mobile.
The Redmond, Wash., company’s shares had risen more than 10 percent from May to July of this year, but had fallen about 12 percent in the past month. Last month, Ballmer set in motion a reorganization that was said to put more power into his hands. Today, he said he is leaving the company after it finds his successor. Microsoft shares rose sharply in early trading after the announcement, and are up about 7 percent to $34.55 as of this post.
Photo: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer onstage in October 2012 during the launch of the Windows 8 operating system in New York City. (Justin Lane/EPA)