Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was not forced out of his role at the company, but its board did hasten his exit, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, whose sources include Ballmer himself, as well as a number of his lieutenants.
Ballmer’s exit was not a firing over the painful reported a $900 million charge related to the Surface tablet line that was recorded earlier this year. That’s a polite way of saying that Microsoft grossly overestimated demand for its new devices and lost a bundle in the process.
The Journal reports that in January, Ballmer’s plan to rebuild Microsoft was put under pressure by the company’s board. They wanted faster motion. The CEO is quoted as saying that he had not wanted to shake up the company until after Windows 8 shipped. That jives with the stated timeline: Windows 8 shipped in Q4 2012; in Q1 2013, the board turned up the heat.
Ballmer continued his work on revamping Microsoft, a company that has been alive for nearly 39 years. In May, he decided to it was time to go. The Journal has the scene:
His personal turning point came on a London street. Winding down from a run one morning during a May trip, he had a few minutes to stroll, some rare spare time for recent months. For the first time, he began thinking Microsoft might change faster without him.
“At the end of the day, we need to break a pattern,” he says. “Face it: I’m a pattern.” […] On a plane from Europe in late May, he told Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith that it “might be the time for me to go.” The next day, Mr. Ballmer called Mr. Thompson, with the same message.
The re-org kicked off in July. Ballmer and the company publicly announced that the CEO would depart within a year in August. The era of Ballmer was coming to a close. In the end, the board was key in accelerating Ballmer’s departure, but he was not, it appears, fired due to any single issue.
When Ballmer did announce that he was leaving Microsoft, there was a good deal of something close to schadenfreude in the media and technology worlds. It was an interesting time.
Ballmer was an imperfect CEO, but his final years will be considered his legacy, and I think that the changes he made to the company that he viscerally loves will bear out as generally correct. He initiated a new business model, began to reform key product lines to protect revenue streams and meet market requirements, turned the company into a respectable, if still flawed, hardware company, and retooled its executive layout to prevent it from shredding itself through internecine warfare as it has for so long.
Yes, there was Vista, Zune, Kin and a host of other flops under his tenure. But the Microsoft of today is the strongest that I can remember it being, and that’s not a bad note for Ballmer to leave on.
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