Today belongs to Satya Nadella. Much has been said and written about Microsoft’s new CEO, much will be said and written in the coming days. But this is another important day for another man.
Microsoft’s 30th employee finished his tenure at the company after 34 incredible years.
No less than 13 of these were at the helm. Steve Ballmer was the one that led the company to the new millennium, and leaves the technology titan at a takeoff position. A bucketful of challenges still remain, but Ballmer, in his final year, has laid the ground on which the new CEO can build upon.
And he leaves behind more than that, much more. Ballmer’s legacy is bold, brash and brave. And loud. Few loved Microsoft more than he did, and fewer still displayed their passion as the big guy.
Here are five highlights from his time at the company:
Numbers like these may fit in a mouth, but you need a lifetime to count the pile of cash. And bringing piles of cash is exactly what Ballmer did best, as revenue in his tenure as CEO surged from an already incredible $25 billion a year to an absolutely astonishing $70 billion.
The company’s net income also increased to the tune of 215 percent, last hovering around $23 billion. His critics may see him as only a bean counter, but boy, not many company leaders march in and create as many profitable new business division as he did. And at such a frantic pace.
Having an opinion on a thing is one thing, letting it known to the world is another! And Steve Ballmer took no prisoners, when it came to competing products (the iPhone, no chance, the Linux kernel, a cancer), companies (kill Google) and even individuals (Eric Schmidt, of all people).
In many ways, that was part of his charm, and maybe even his strength. While Satya Nadella bring a cool and calm demeanor at the top, Ballmer rallied the workforce like there was no tomorrow. Steve Ballmer was, is, and will remain an easily excitable fella. No surprises, then, that it showed.
Ask the man and he will gladly admit that he missed a boat or two during his time at the top. While Ballmer was busy fine tuning (and then fixing) Windows Vista, the mobile market was exploding. By the time work started on the modern Windows 8, it was the case of yielding to competitors.
Back in December 2000, Microsoft was the world’s most valuable company with a market capitalization of $510 billion, now this amount is halved. He did what he could with Windows 8 and Surface, and while the two products have not reached orbit yet, there are enough signs of growth and a positive future.
“Use him, yes, need him, no.” This is what Ballmer reportedly said about his close friend during the tensions surrounding the transition of authority back in 2000. Both have, nevertheless, maintained a warm, if cautious, relationship since then.
Hard to imagine if Ballmer was the reason why Gates drew apart from the company over the years, but the visionary co-founder now seems ready to substantially increase his time (up to a third) by switching from chairman to technology advisor. And that, for many, is something to keep an eye on.
The final glimpse is often the most powerful. Ballmer in his welcome message to Satya Nadella today had clearly had that same passion that drove him through his time at Redmond, sprinkled with the hint of admitting that he could have done better in some areas. See for yourself:
Ultimately, Ballmer was the man that oversaw the development of Windows 7 (the most popular operating system in the world), Xbox (the reason why Sony is yet to dominate the living room), Windows Azure (that is showing no signs of slowing), and acquisitions like Skype and Nokia.
Regardless of how his legacy is ultimately painted, golden or dismal, there is no denying that the man who follows him has big shoes to fill — more so when it comes to keeping fans, critics and (more importantly) the media hooked to what Microsoft does.
Which is a longwinded way of saying that, yes, it is the toughest of jobs.