Ballmer Admits he’s “An Emblem of an Old Era”

by Matt Klassen on November 18, 2013

Microsoft investors and Board of Directors were pushing CEO Steve Ballmer to change the company, he knew he couldn’t. Hampered by a corporate culture he himself instilled in the company, Ballmer came to the realization earlier this year that he was stuck in the old way of doing things, he couldn’t move fast enough to compete and his company was suffering because of it. “Maybe I’m an emblem of an old era,” an emotional Ballmer recently told the Wall Street Journal in an exclusive interview, “and I have to move on.”

The realization of being part of the old guard came when Ballmer attempted to map out a strategy to compete with the likes of Apple and Google, both of whom were quickly outpacing Microsoft in key consumer markets. It was then that lead director John Thompson cut to the chase. “Hey, dude, let’s get on with it,” Thompson says he told Ballmer. “We’re in suspended animation.”

Say what you will of Ballmer, his leadership style, his inability to respond to a changing tech market, or whatever else he’s done that has brought Microsoft to this point, its refreshing to see someone in this industry with the humility to know he’s no longer the man for the job, and the foresight to step down before its too late.

While the Board of Directors certainly didn’t push Ballmer out the door, they demanded something of him he simply couldn’t deliver: speed. The Board, investors, and the entire tech industry were tired of waiting for Microsoft’s recovery strategy, action was needed and Ballmer was out of his depth. The man who had been an integral member of Microsoft for 33 years was left scratching his head, idle as the rest of the tech industry passed him by.

“At this critical juncture, Wall Street wants new blood to bring fundamental change,” says Brent Thill, a long-time Microsoft analyst at UBS AG. “Steve was a phenomenal leader who racked up profits and market share in the commercial business, but the new CEO must innovate in areas Steve missed—phone, tablet, Internet services, even wearables.”

Its entry into these new market segments that make the task of finding Ballmer’s successor all the more Herculean, as while the candidates are awash in corporate leadership experience, they seem to lack in all the same areas Ballmer did, and replacing Ballmer with, well, another Ballmer just isn’t the way to go.

Add to that the problem that investors, despite their clamouring for change, for speed, for innovation, really only want to increase profitability without sacrificing stability, and its clear Microsoft is stuck between a rock and a hard place. But strangely enough Ballmer knows what his company needs to do to succeed; it’s just a matter of doing it. “At the end of the day, we need to break a pattern,” Ballmer insightfully noted. “Face it: I’m a pattern.”

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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