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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2648

Steve Ballmer of Microsoft: the rise and gentle fall of a giant

By Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

The ring of truth that orbits the well-hackneyed saying among the investors, traders and of course, pundits in the City of London ‘the trend is your friend unless proven otherwise’ seems to be having the potential to expand its scope beyond the strict, virtual perimeter of the financial realm.

The news that Microsoft’s board – at least some directors – coupled with major investors are forcing its formidable CEO, Steve Ballmer, for an early exit just shows how turning one’s back on the trend can cost your job, especially in the rapidly-evolving realm of modern technology, regardless of the impressive past track record and the influence of the person in question who still wields significant power over the company, at least in terms of individual shares and loyalty.

Having come under enormous criticism from the powerful investors for not correctly identifying the path that Microsoft should pursue, especially in the face of the challenges from Google and Apple, Mr Ballmer announced that he would retire from the post of CEO in August. He later confirmed his position by the release of an emotional video, addressed to his employees.

Since his announcement, Microsoft had appointed a CEO-search committee to look for one of the most challenging task of the corporate world – finding a CEO for Microsoft. According to Wall Street Journal, a member of the committee has laid bare the mood at the heart of the software giant – unfortunately, in a less-than flattering way:

“The directors didn’t push Steve to step down,” says John Thompson, a member of the committee while adding “but we were pushing him damn hard to go faster,” in the same breath.

Mr Ballmer, a pal of Bill Gates from Harvard, has been running Microsoft for almost 13 years. Under his leadership, the company made phenomenal profits while extending its market share in an explosive way. His sales strategy did wonders for the company even when Bill Gates was at the helm - and later while just being a ceremonial head. After all, Mr Ballmer is the second largest individual investor, after Bill Gates – and still an employee who is a billionaire. He deserves the credit for turning Microsoft into $22-billion Company within a decade.

Much to Mr Ballmer’s horror, however, none seems to be providing him with a shield to secure what is left of his influence at Microsoft. On one hand, there is a technically-marvellous workforce at Microsoft, longing to be led by an innovative shepherd, rather than a salesman. On the other hand, the investors are increasingly becoming restless, having come to realize how the flame of creativity is losing its glow in the absence of the co-founder, Bill Gates.

Mr Ballmer’s position in the evolving saga is that of a piece of bacon in the middle of a sandwich. When the pressure on all fronts took its toll on him, he finally made a decision to quit.

Mr Ballmer made a catalogue of blunders in the past few years: when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone, for instance, Mr Ballmer publicly laughed at by asking “Who would spend $500 on a mobile phone?”; he underestimated the exponential growth of tablets with his rigid belief that PC would be the king in the world of computers – perhaps, for ever; Mr Ballmer abandoned the traditional PC users with Windows 8 operating system while intensely making his focus on tablets, which later proved disastrous, not only for Microsoft, but also for PC makers worldwide.

Then, in order to reverse the trend, like most modern beleaguered CEOs, Mr Ballmer went on an acquisition spree: Microsoft, for instance, bought SKYPE for staggering $8.5 billion in 2011 when the expert in the industry questioned the logic behind the investment, although it has since been integrated with Microsoft products. Such a major move, however, did very little to inflate the reputation of Mr Ballmer as he was clueless to keep the threat of tablet at bay.

The mistake that Mr Ballmer made in underestimating the progress of smartphone is on a par with the mistake that Bill Gates made in rubbishing the growth of internet while stubbornly sticking to his PC vision. Otherwise, Google would not have been in the position it is now in, despite the success of the founders of the latter.

The premature departure of Mr Ballmer may not be the hardest part of Microsoft’s strategy in its quest for finding the new CEO. On the contrary, it is the easiest. Because, as we see in many technological giants, appointing a mere technocrat for the role of CEO of a company of Microsoft’s calibre is merely a short-cut to corporate euthanasia.

The individual needs the vision and passion that Mr Gates had in abundance – in addition to his enviable technical skills, of course - when he led the software giant while leaving the rivals in the lurch.

-Asian Tribune -

Steve Ballmer of Microsoft: the rise and gentle fall of a giant
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