Steve Ballmer, the current CEO of software giant Microsoft Corporation, announced Friday, Aug. 23 that he will be retiring within the next year. The 57-year old has been Microsoft’s CEO since 2000, and his surprise announcement came as a shock to the tech community. Ballmer joined Microsoft in 1980; he was the first business manager to be hired by Bill Gates, the company’s founder and current chairman. Over his first 20 years with Microsoft, Ballmer headed several operations and sales divisions, becoming Vice President and eventually President of the software company before being officially named its CEO.
During Ballmer’s time as CEO, he diversified Microsoft’s product offerings, adding new business divisions to develop data centers and entertainment devices such as the Xbox. Under his supervision, Microsoft acquired Skype, developed several new versions of the Windows operating system, and launched its search engine, Bing. By the beginning of 2012 Ballmer had utilized these new products, as well as extant franchises like Microsoft Office, in order to increase the company’s annual profit growth by a total of 16.4 percent.
Ballmer is passionate and enthusiastic, and he is well- known for his dramatic and flamboyant stage performances at Microsoft events and developer conferences. Many of his more bombastic moments have become infamous viral Internet videos.
Despite Ballmer’s achievements and the success of Microsoft in general, his leadership has come into question during recent years. As mobile devices and web services start to take center stage for technology consumers, PC sales are flagging and Microsoft’s influence is beginning to shrink. Technology companies like Google and Apple, better equipped to provide newly demanded services and devices, are now growing faster while Microsoft lags behind.
Many believe Ballmer is to blame for Microsoft’s slow reaction speeds at responding to new technologies. The CEO has repeatedly scoffed at the launch of products, such as the iPad, iPhone, Android, and Google’s Chrome OS, which have since become major competitors to Microsoft’s products. In fact, in 2012 the iPhone alone brought in more profits than the entire Microsoft Corporation, making $22.7 billion dollars while Microsoft recorded sales of only $17.4 billion. Popular opinion of Ballmer was so low at the time of his statement that Microsoft’s stock actually increased by 7.29% following the announcement.
Ballmer has recently attempted to address Microsoft’s sluggish modernization by attempting to overhaul the company’s product identity, introducing Microsoft- produced tablets and a new management structure. He sees the Microsoft of the future as an innovative company focused on successfully marketing devices and services. However, his changes have not yet had a major impact on Microsoft’s growth.
Ballmer believes that his retirement is in Microsoft’s best interest. He had initially planned to step down halfway through what he calls Microsoft’s “transformation,” but decided that the company would be better off with a CEO that can see the entire process through to the end. Ballmer will continue performing his duties as CEO during the search for his successor, and Gates will also be overseeing the replacement process.