Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is retiring this year.
On his way out the door, he’s getting hit with a lot of shots.
For instance, the Wall Street Journal just had a fairly harsh analysis of Microsoft’s CEO search, and put much of the blame for why it doesn’t have a new CEO at Ballmer’s feet.
We too have been critical of Ballmer, saying (among other things) that his determination to think of Microsoft’s bottom line may have led to bad long-term product decisions that have caused problems for the company.
But, there’s a few things about Ballmer and his run at Microsoft that are undeniable.
1. He significantly improved the company’s financial performance while he ran the company. This is generally discounted as no big deal, but look at Blackberry, or Palm, or Yahoo, or any number of tech companies. Growing earnings and revenues is not some forgone conclusion.
2. He turned Microsoft into an enterprise powerhouse. Today, there’s a real debate over whether Microsoft should give up on the consumer entirely. There’s a subtext to this debate which is that Microsoft was never a consumer company and it was always killer in the enterprise. That’s not the case. Microsoft’s Server & Tools group has flourish under Ballmer taking on incumbents and winning.
3. The guy loved Microsoft. Maybe he loved it too much, but there’s no debate that Ballmer adores Microsoft. He loves Microsoft (probably) more than any other CEO loves his/her company.
4. Unlike a lot corporate executives, was an entertaining human being when he was on stage. To illustrate this point, check out the two photos below, which are in Getty’s archives. They show Ballmer hamming it up as he plays Xbox on stage. There’s just no executive in tech who is as bombastic, or entertaining. The rest of tech’s executives are generally cooler, and less willing to explode on stage in moments of unfettered joy and passion. Looking at these photos, it’s a good reminder that Ballmer was one of a kind, who we’re going to miss.