Steve Ballmer told Businessweek that his job completely changed when Bill Gates stepped down from day to day duties at the company in 2008.
“People might have missed this fact, but I got a new job three and a half years ago,” he told Ashlee Vance.
That seems to overstate the case a bit.
Ballmer has been CEO of the company since 2000. He was in charge when Microsoft released Windows Vista, spent billions chasing Google in search, and missed the importance of the iPhone.
Sure, Gates was known to be actively involved in some products — particularly Windows and some of its offshoots, like tablets — and he certainly advised Ballmer on big decisions. (He still does, when asked.)
But Ballmer has had the final say on big decisions like budgeting, acquiring, and personnel for a long time.
The article points out one big change that has been noticeable from the outside.
Since Gates stepped down, Ballmer has replaced a lot of product group leaders who came from the sales and marketing side with more technical leaders.
In particular Windows chief and former Office head Steve Sinofsky has taken on a much larger role at the company since Gates left.
That makes sense: Ballmer isn’t an engineer like Gates was, so he needs technical leaders who can see where the future is going and design products accordingly. He doesn’t need any help understanding the sales side, as he’s known to be intimately familiar with the business details of every product and sales team at Microsoft.
As Ballmer puts it, “The only way to get great execution with great ideas is to have guys in our leadership who can really take things to the next level—not wait to hear from me what the instruction is but take things to the next level. I had to find my role relative to the product side, which I hadn’t had to find really as much while Bill was still here.”
Other fun details about Ballmer:
- Ballmer often eats in a private room reserved for him in an unnamed steakhouse in Bellevue (the large suburb nearest to Redmond, where Microsoft’s headquarters is).
- Netflix CEO and Microsoft board member Reed Hastings calls Ballmer “the most honest, self-critical, self-aware person I have ever met.”
- Ballmer likes Lady Gaga but hates Gnarls Barkley.