Microsoft employees are stunned Steve Ballmer is retiring in the next twelve months.
We spoke with multiple senior level executives, as well as former employees still connected to the company.
The reaction is unanimous: They did not see this coming. At least, not right now.
They all knew it was going to happen eventually, but they were thinking it would be in the next three to five years.
Previously, Ballmer told Microsoft executives he planned to leave once his kids were done with high school. This would allow him to travel and see the kids more. That time frame had him out in 2017.
There was no indication in the last year that Ballmer had changed his mind about that timeline. Employees says he seemed energized and focused on the company.
He spent almost a year working on reorganising the company. He wanted to kill the various silos and business groups that fought with each other in order to make “One Microsoft,” which would have the company working together.
Through his reorg, he seemed to be saying, “I’m here for the next few years.”
Now that he’s out, employees are asking, “Why now?”
We’ve heard, and Microsoft’s press release says, that Ballmer just thought now was a good time to go. He felt like a transition opened and he decided to take it.
But something about that explanation feels off. It just doesn’t square with the very ambitious reorg plan that Ballmer laid out just over a month ago.
In fact, it completely disrupts his reorganization plan.
All employees we talk to at Microsoft seem to be still trying to sort their way through how their jobs are different under the reorg. They’re trying to figure out who they report to, and what’s new. “It’s definitely a work in progress,” says one.
To do a complete reorg, employees need to have faith in the plan.
Now that Ballmer has turned himself into a “lame duck” to quote one employee that reorg is going to be harder to keep going. Who knows if the next CEO will agree with Ballmer’s plan?
We’ve been told the board signed off on Ballmer’s re-org plans, and is likely to find someone that will follow through on Ballmer’s vision. But, right now employees aren’t sure they believe that.
They’ve been totally blindsided by this news. They all want to know why it happened when it happened and what comes next.
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