Happy Birthday Microsoft. Although maybe 23 August is the date to celebrate Microsoft’s Re-Birth Day. That was the day CEO Steve Ballmer announced his resignation. Ballmer had an indelible part in writing Microsoft’s history which I have shared my own perspectives on in this blog. But it was his decision to step aside which changed the course of the company. And from most perspectives, for the better.
The Wall Street Journal analysed his decision in their piece “Microsoft’s CEO explained how he came to believe he wasn’t the best person to remake the company” which revealed his generously humble dose of embracing failure…
- “Mr. Ballmer says he started to realize he had trained managers to see the trees, not the forest, and that many weren’t going to take his new mandates to heart. In May, he began wondering whether he could meet the pace the board demanded. ‘No matter how fast I want to change, there will be some hesitation from all constituents—employees, directors, investors, partners, vendors, customers, you name it—to believe I’m serious about it, maybe even myself,’ he says. His personal turning point came on a London street. Winding down from a run one morning during a May trip, he had a few minutes to stroll, some rare spare time for recent months. For the first time, he began thinking Microsoft might change faster without him. ‘At the end of the day, we need to break a pattern,’ he says. ‘Face it: I’m a pattern.’ Mr. Ballmer says he secretly began drafting retirement letters—ultimately some 40 of them, ranging from maudlin to radical. On a plane from Europe in late May, he told Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith that it ‘might be the time for me to go.’… ‘While I would like to stay here a few more years, it doesn’t make sense for me to start the transformation and for someone else to come in during the middle.’ The board wasn’t "surprised or shocked," says Mr. Noski, given directors’ conversations with Mr. Ballmer. Mr. Thompson says he and others indicated that ‘fresh eyes and ears might accelerate what we’re trying to do here.’"
Nobody is perfect. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. A while back, I stepped down as Chairperson of a charity I had run very successfully for a number of years. I did so for the same reason why it was time for me to leave Microsoft’s Server Business Division that I had run for 5 years. Both had become very “Bruceified”. I had done all the things that I knew how to do to make a team great. Those were a lot of things and they made the team very strong. But, for starters, once done, my ability and value to make further progress was limited. And second, there were plenty of things that were not ideal and were not my forte to fix.
And after more than three decades of Steve Ballmer at the top (or near penultimate top) of the Microsoft organisation, it too had become very “Ballmerfied”. His focus on the enterprise brought Microsoft many revenues from the lucrative business market, but the surging consumer market was less familiar. His focus on high energy determination anchored Microsoft in the heady days of fast paced growth, but was less effective in the era of a mature market and a more complex organisation.
Since Ballmer’s resignation, Microsoft stock has risen appreciably with investors returning the embrace of this embrace of failure.