Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to Retire “Within 12 Months”

I Heard the News Today, Oh Boy…

Yours Truly and Steve Ballmer at a Microsoft Canada town hall, October 2009.

You’re going to be hearing about this all day today, so you might as well read it here. A news release from Microsoft’s PR site published today announced that CEO Steve Ballmer will step down sometime in the next 12 months.

Here’s the Ballmer quote from the release:

“There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” Ballmer said. “We have embarked on a new strategy with a new organization and we have an amazing Senior Leadership Team. My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our company’s transformation to a devices and services company. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction.”

As a former Microsoftie, I’ve seen two Steve Ballmers. There’s the Steve Ballmer the public saw, the blustery, manic, chair-throwing“Developers, developers, developers, developers” guy, who tragically underestimated the effect that the iPhone would have on the industry and Microsoft’s fortunes, and the CEO oversaw Microsoft through its “lost decade”. Then there’s SteveB — the name often used to refer to him in internal emails — who had a solid grasp of just about every aspect of the business. At the internal town hall meeting where the picture above was taken, he gave intelligent answers to esoteric questions from people from wildly different departments at Microsoft Canada. He’s also managed to keep Microsoft rolling in money; in Microsoft’s 2Q 2013 (their fiscal year begins on July 1st; their 2Q 2013 is 4Q 2012 on the calendar), they posted a record revenue of $21.5 billion.

And the Shareholders Rejoiced

There has been a vocal chorus of shareholders who’ve been calling for Ballmer’s resignation, and there will likely be champagne corks popping this afternoon. CNET reports that Microsoft shares have jumped up 8% in pre-market in response to the news.

John Zissimos posted the following graph on Twitter with the tagline “What Ballmer retiring from Microsoft looks like on a stock chart”:

microsoft shares ballmer departure

Click the graph to see it at full size.

The natural question is “Who will Ballmer’s successor be?” Steve Sinofsky has long been seen as Ballmer’s eventual successor and would’ve been the most likely choice, if he hadn’t left the company back in November.

What Does Mini-Microsoft Say?


Microsoft’s notorious insider blogger is frickin’ tickled pink. He also astutely points out:

To me, this throws the whole in-process re-org upside down. Why re-org under the design of the exiting leader? Even if the Senior Leadership Team goes forward saying that they support the re-org, it’s undermined by everyone who is a part of it now questioning whether the new leader will undo and recraft the decisions being made now. I’d much rather Microsoft be organized under the vision of the new leader and their vision.

Taking Out the Trash

I’ll close with the observation that the choice to make the announcement on a Friday — and a Friday near the end of August, when many people are on vacation — is noteable. In the world of PR, Friday is “Take Out the Trash Day”, when you make announcements that you want buried. Here’s an exchange from The West Wing that explains the idea:

Donna: What’s take out the trash day?
Josh: Friday.
Donna: I mean, what is it?
Josh: Any stories we have to give the press that we’re not wild about, we give all in a lump on Friday.
Donna: Why do you do it in a lump?
Josh: Instead of one at a time?
Donna: I’d think you’d want to spread them out.
Josh: They’ve got X column inches to fill, right? They’re going to fill them no matter what.
Donna: Yes.
Josh: So if we give them one story, that story’s X column inches.
Donna: And if we give them five stories …
Josh: They’re a fifth the size.
Donna: Why do you do it on Friday?
Josh: Because no one reads the paper on Saturday.
Donna: You guys are real populists, aren’t you?

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