For the man who thought bigger was better – it was time for Steve Ballmer to go
Ballmer tripled revenue at Microsoft since he replaced Bill Gates in 2000
Steve Ballmer greets host Ryan Seacrest at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2012. Photograph: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Steve Ballmer is an imposing man. He is tall. He is solid. He is loud (his foghorn voice does not have a sotto voce setting).
For a big guy, he also can be surprisingly animated, as anyone will know who has watched those ubiquitous online videos of his (in)famous “developers” speech, in which he storms back and forth onstage, flailing his arms and inciting a room of developers to clap and chant “Developers! Developers! Developers!”
It’s pretty cringemaking – doing that kind of thing needed a bit of tongue-in- cheek self-irony and there is absolutely none.
The Developers chant – as well as the even more (in)famous “Monkey Dance” video clips of him leaping about at a Microsoft anniversary event, just seemed to signify everything that was annoying, trivial and wannabe hip,
but also alarmingly
powerful, about what was then, one of the mightiest
Some appraisals of Ballmer, following his sudden announcement that he would be stepping down from the helm of Microsoft in the next year, pointed to such videos as evidence that Ballmer was more a clown than a proper chief executive.
The only surprise, goes this line of thinking, is that he stayed in the driver’s seat of the company after succeeding founder Bill Gates, for so long.
But that would be unfair to a man who tripled revenue and doubled profits since he replaced Gates in January 2000 – even though share prices have skydived, more than halving the value of the company in those years.
Ballmer was – and is – a tough and intelligent man. So is Gates. The company as it was conceived and as it stands is the product of both of them.
Gates told Forbes in 1999, “We’re both pretty good about being two people with one huge job. Who has what title isn’t a phenomenal element of that.”
Read any history of Microsoft and its clear the company was, like many successful companies, the result of luck, chance, drive and a product vacuum desperately waiting to be filled, even by an essentially crappy product.
The crappy product was DOS, which Gates hoped to flog to IBM as an operating system (OS) for a revolutionary new product – personal computers. IBM didn’t buy it; a disappointed Gates instead turned to licensing it to PC manufacturers and the rest is history.
Thanks to the internet, in the past 15 years, Microsoft’s market changed drastically. The PC and Windows become ever less important. Ballmer – and Gates, as chairman – failed to get the right new products into this shifting market at the right time.
That is why the company’s shares are being punished.