Ballmer at the Seattle Rotary today

[FOLLOW-UP: GeekWire Commentary: Microsoft doesn’t need to replace Ballmer as much as it needs to replace Gates]

You’d think that the Seattle Rotary Club might be friendly turf for Steve Ballmer. But it didn’t take long for a Rotarian to toss a hardball question to the Microsoft CEO after he finished formal remarks today at the Westin in downtown Seattle.

Assunta Ng, publisher of the Northwest Asian Weekly, asked Ballmer what he thought of critics who’ve asked that he step down.

Here’s what Ng had to say: Thank you for being here, Steve. Recently I read somewhere, someone said, ‘It is time for Microsoft to change its CEO. Steve Ballmer needs to go.’ What’s your reaction to that?

The question drew some nervous laughs from the crowd, but Ballmer responded in his typical boisterous fashion.

“YOU TELL ME if I lack energy or conviction, or we’re not driving all the change we need to drive.”

Here’s an audio clip of the question and answer.

The crowd responded with loud applause. It marks the first time that Ballmer has publicly addressed the question of his future as CEO since the issue was revived by hedge fund manager David Einhorn at a recent investment conference.

The clip above also includes a question about Microsoft’s investment in Windows 8, and once again Ballmer’s response was meant to get across how deep his commitment to the software companies goes.

“You cut me open and saw what was inside: Windows. Windows. Windows. Windows,” Ballmer said. “Our company was born on the back of Windows. Windows underpins a huge percentage of all of our success, all of our profitability, all of the important things that we do. So, how important is it? Very, would be a very fair answer.”

Earlier in his remarks, Ballmer stressed that it would take “optimism” and “persistence” for Microsoft to continue to be a leading company.

Related: Steve Ballmer on bringing the Sonics back to Seattle: It’s a real estate problem

 

Comments

  • Better News

    It’s about judgement, Steve. A born again teenager on redbull has energy and conviction. As to change? As they say in comedy, it’s all about the timing.

  • Guest

    Congratulations to Steve! Thank you for standing firm in the face of adversity.

    • Victor

      What adversity? Having the biggest bankroll in the industry for more than a decade while giving investors worse than utility stock kind of returns? Or having no vision? That kind adversity cannot be fixed. 

      • Anonymous

        no vision? if you don’t think Win 8 isn’t going to steam roll its way through the tablet market…you may need to get your eyes checked. They’ll be no compromise tablets, unlike the crap that’s currently out now (android and ipad included).
        xbox and kinect have set the stage for incredible immerisive interaction with games and tv. Not to mention xbox live which sets the standard for gaming networks.
        Windows phone is not just bucket of apps but a cohesively integrated system which changes the way you interact with your phone and information. Its already starting to redefine what a smart phone should be. You can see that in IOS5’s attempts at integration with twitter.
        Office ribbon has opened up once deep cluttered menus to a more streamlined UI. It still sets the standard for Office applications not too mention their jump to the cloud with 365.
        I’m not even talking about their close ties with facebook (did you notice how IOS5 had no integration with the largest social network) or aquisition of skype, their deal with nokia.
        I think MS has been more focused in the past few years than they ever have. I questioned their vision and execution before but now after seeing the direction they are going i don’t question their vision.

        • Victor

          Are you sure you don’t work for Microsoft?

          • James Childers

            Probably. Or an astroturfing firm.

          • Anonymous

            yeah probably. If that makes you feel better to think that.

          • Anonymous

            I must right. because this is no place to disagree with someone and provide reasons as to why you disagree. I should come up with well thought out arguments like yours. Here i’ll try.
            “You must work for (insert any tech company here).”

          • Victor

            Oh, it isn’t just about disagreeing with you. It has everything to do with the way you laid out your points. It is strangely like “us (Microsoft) against the world”, something an average person could easily mistaken for some internal talking points memo from Microsoft PR department. 

            As for me? I run a small software company here in Seattle, and we actually develop software on Windows platform. So yeah, we have known Ballmer’s vision for a long time and we are not impressed.

        • http://twitter.com/hendra Hendra

          wow, r u sure you’re not steve ballmer?

          • Anonymous

            wow great response. Thanks for contributing to this conversation. /sarcasm

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KH43IXTF6WZIQNDH6QUQTBXMMM Martin D

          You should always question vision, and hopefully with new attacking data at all turns to confirm that the vision is on track.  If you don’t question vision, that makes you a drone.

          Zune was supposed to be superior, change the world, etc. as well but it completely lacked a sense of how to penetrate the market in a successful way.  This is what Microsoft lacks most:  Not drive, not passion, not a product that technically fulfills an Excel sheet feature list… it lacks the ability to *make people feel awesome about buying their products and using them.*

          This is partly a branding problem that is the consequence of years of brand mismanagement, and a company that has behaved far too long like a company that doesn’t truly make R&D and fanatical genius the core of its existence (no matter how many $billions they may indeed invest in R&D)… it is a side investment, while squeezing technical profit out of existing customers through legacy footprint and technical monopoly is the main spirit of the company’s core values.

          Microsoft can’t become what they think they want to be until they kill what they are.  But like any large company, they lack the institutional agility and the courage to do that.  Large companies don’t change overnight — so no matter what the CEO is screaming or jumping about (which by the way, Mister Ballmer, makes you look like a complete idiot and an untrustworthy, unstable person which then communicates to us that your company doesn’t really have something that will naturally blow us away, but instead relies on your extremely unsettling personality to get in our faces)… the company’s character is built over time, brick by brick, on a thousand decisions that point to a core value system and core set of goals.

          The very word “Microsoft” has become a bitter thing to say for many of us, such that no one even wants to say it in polite conversation.  You may rightfully claim victimhood for some of this, as some have unfairly picked on Microsoft in times past.  But unfortunately you have all too often lived up to the worst of these cynics, delivering us what amounts to an almost-good experience that ends up frustrating us as consumers, and making us regret our buying decision.

          Thank you, and have a nice day.

          • Anonymous

            I agree in questioning a companies vision. I should probably clarify, i can see where MS is going and I like what i’m seeing. A lot of it are things that i’ve been complaining about for years.
            I disagree that the zune was supposed to be a superior whatever. They approached it as a long term project and I think the end result was less about the device and more about establishing the software. You can see that as its branched to the phone and the xbox. Ultimately, I think it will replace media player. Which is good because media player is long in the tooth.
            I do agree MS’s marketing of zune was abysmal, same with WP7. But the products are/ were pretty solid. I’ve had very positive experiences with WP7 so far. Overall i’ve liked the MS products I’ve used. The only ones i’ve not liked so much are live photos, moviemaker and skydrive. (funny in that its all the free stuff). The lastest skydrive update is a step in the right direction but needs more work.
            Live photos leaves a lot to be desired. I’ll quote you and say its an “almost-good experience”.
            I think MS several years ago was a lumbering giant, i think since vista they’ve done a quite a bit of direction changing and reorgs and seem to be finally moving faster and with more focus. The may never move as fast smaller lighter companies..that just goes with being behemoth but if they keep up this recent drive and focus, they’ll be alright.

          • Rob

            Finally I agree with something you said.
            “i can see where MS is going and I like what i’m seeing.”
            Good Riddance.

          • Rob

            Finally I agree with something you said.
            “i can see where MS is going and I like what i’m seeing.”
            Good Riddance.

        • guest

          Jibba, please don’t bring logic into these discussions, its not welcome when people want to blame a CEO for something he doesnt control.  We wont bring up increased profits year over year while keeping expendatures low, maintaining marketshare and gaining marketshare in areas such as office and server, or any of the things a CEO is responsible for.

          And we certainly won’t talk about .net or Surface…that might make the company look innovative.

          Yer silly crazy logic is not welcome here :)

          • http://dmartin.org Dan Martin

            Blame a CEO for something he doesn’t control?  He’s the CEO!  He controls anything he wants to control.  He is in the same position as Steve Jobs, and Steve seems to be controlling everything in a positive direction (when healthy enough to do so).

            Look, when you expect to get paid more than anyone else in the company, you are responsible for every part of the company.  Plain and simple, right or wrong, like it or not.  Microsoft’s performance under Ballmer is completely stagnant, and he is responsible for that. 

            I lead technology development teams for a living, and if my technology doesn’t perform, I get fired.  If Ballmer’s company doesn’t perform, he should be too.

        • Info

          “i don’t question their vision” . . .

          Obviously.

      • http://www.facebook.com/kmorrill Kevin Morrill

        What adversity?  15 years ago when they tried to break into enterprise software the industry universally laughed at MS and thought they were a complete non-player compared to the like of Oracle and IBM.  Now they dominate and people criticize them for making too much of their money in the enterprise.  10 years ago it was written up everyday (and still is to this day) that MS would be out of business from open source software.  In fact the company has tripled revenues and doubled profits.  5 years ago everyone was sure Google Docs would unseat MS’s Office because they’d be too late to get in the cloud.  MS got there, granted with plenty of issues, but now most reviewers criticize Google for being light on features compares to Office.

        • Tom

          How quickly they forget.

          “Every major corporation needs its Vietnam, and this will be Microsoft’s,” said
          Irving Wladwasky-Berger, a vice president of the International Business Machines
          Corporation.  (“Microsoft Sets Its Sights on Corporate Computing”.  The New York Times, May 19, 1997)

          By those standards, Vietnam would be the 51st state in the Union today.

    • Guest

      Yes, congratulatons to Steve! Who cares about all the mistakes and failures? So what if you lost a decade head start in mobile and tablets because of your own arrogance and incompetence? Big deal if shareholders have lost hundreds of billions over your tenure and the media is writing MS’s obituary daily. You just keep your head up, your ears closed, and refuse to change a single thing. You’re the man! And so is the board that refuses to do their job and instead keeps you in power. What fine examples of public company accountability and governance. /sarcasm.

    • Anonymous

      You mean adversity like a dwindling market share? Stagnant stock price for over a decade while the competition’s has increased a hundred-fold? Inability to make headway into markets that have turned also-rans like HTC into powerhouses?

      Ballmer “stands firm” the way Bush stood firm on the whole Iraq thing. That worked out great too, right?

  • Bob

    “YOU TELL ME if I lack energy or conviction, or we’re not driving all the change we need to drive.”

    Okay, I’ll bite. No on the former and emphatically yes on the latter. It’s ultimately about results, not effort. And his results don’t measure up.

    • Anonymous

      increasing profits year after year doesn’t measure up?

      • Victor

        I am starting to wonder how many guys like you Microsoft put on payroll to monitor blogs and news sites so they can tilt the narrative.

        • Guest

          Victor, please don’t resort to ad hominem attacks. Would you kindly explain whether increasing profits year after year measures up?

          And because you’re going to ask, I don’t work for Microsoft.

          • Anonymous

            Would you kindly explain whether increasing profits year after year measures up?

            Haha such a laughable question. How about all the wasted money? Leaky-bucket strategies are never good for the long term.

          • Guest

            It’s no secret that Microsoft, like Apple, Google, Facebook, and other tech giants, is wasting half its R&D spending.

            What no one knows is, which half?

          • Anonymous

            Kin wasn’t an R&D project. Nor was its $726 million lost in the Online Services Division for one quarter this year.

          • Guest

            Dan, you clearly have no idea what the terms “research” and “development” mean. I regretfully must terminate our conversation. Try binging those terms to get definitions, then Google+ me to resume.

          • Anonymous

            What the hell are you on about? I’m studying business and marketing at university so I think I’d know what I’m talking about. I’m afraid I must terminate our conversation due to me not wishing to waste any more time on a troll.

          • Tom

            Kin was a failed acquisition.  Academic studies have shown that 2/3 of corporate acquisitions fail.

            At Microsoft, it’s more like 90%.  Skype is the next Kin.

          • Victor

            Unfortunately no. Most utility companies increase profits year after year as well, but shareholders have much lower expectations on those entities. Microsoft, at least when Ballmer took over had all the advantages and generate cash at a greater rate than just about any company with the exception of Exxon. One can easily argue Ballmer added little to no value to the cash generation capability of this enterprise, instead he has wasted more of cash throw off by Microsoft. Shareholders would have been far better served if those cash were simply paid out as dividends. If he truly regard himself as a great leader, he should have the humility to look at his failed record and resign.

          • Tom

            Actually, for the last few years, Microsoft has been paying out 80% of after-tax earnings as dividends or buybacks.

            FY 2011 will be an exception because of the money wasted on Skype.  Hopefully they can avoid any such silliness in FY 2012 and return to the pattern.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KH43IXTF6WZIQNDH6QUQTBXMMM Martin D

            To answer your question about whether increasing profits year after year measures up:  It doesn’t.  If you give anybody a sack of $20 billion and they *don’t* end up making money, just for the sheer fact that you can hardly stick all that capital in a cash account (you virtually HAVE to invest it in some kind of securities), you’d be a miracle worker.

            Now the real question here is what is that cash built on:  Are you exploiting largesse of past victories?  Are you the Roman Empire living on the spoils of conquered countries and the product of their slaves who have toiled before you?  Is the product line you’re building genuinely creating a future for the company, or are you just living in the past?

            Furthermore, are you increasing market share?  Do people love your brand?  Are you doing will with the unlimited opportunities you’ve been given, or are you failing utterly to capture all that’s possible?  How are you doing vis-a-vis your peers, and competitors?  Are you gaining in sales with existing customers, or are you just plumbing virgin markets that have nothing better to choose from, or where you’ve established an early foothold and don’t yet face genuine competition?

            So again: No, to be CEO of a company with unlimited funds and just “make a profit” year after year is not nearly good enough.  In fact it can be a sign of dismal failure.

            To answer the implied side question:  Yes, it’s nice to make money.  But just making money doesn’t automatically signal any serious measure of success.

            Thank you, and feel free to ask any further questions.

        • Guest

          As opposed to ones like you who attempt to tilt it the other way for free?

        • http://www.facebook.com/ethanpelton Ethan Pelton

          Have you used WP7? Kinect? Windows 7? the myriad of free development tools provided by MS? All of the above are revolutionary, career building, world technology changing offerings that have come under Balmer. Although he does get on my nerves.

          • Guest

            You mean MS’s still incomplete mobile OS that came four years after iPhone, the device Ballmer said wouldn’t take much share, and still hasn’t been sufficient to stop MS’s share erosion in mobile? Or Kinect, which has been a rare consumer hit, but relies on Xbox, which is still about $6B in the hole over its lifetime? Or W7, that has been a big success following the abject failure of Longhorn and then Vista?

            Remind me again who was CEO during all those previous failures? Or right, nevermind.

          • Guest

            Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes the first two are whole heartedly unimpressive, WP7 for taking the Apple approach of you only rent the phone we control what you do with it and how you use it. Kinect? the idea is way more impressive than the implementation… the original stratedgy albeit a bit more expensive to produce would have blown people away (remember kids, lag = bad). Windows 7? it was what Vista would have/should have been in the first place (another bad push) The only thing where MS tops #1 in this list is the free and extremely high quality tools (also it’s the last place where they are still rooted)

      • Higher750

        No, look at the stock price.  The stock price matters to those who own the company.

        • Tom

          The stock price is an artificial number generated by a bunch of manic-depressives.

          If the stock price implies that a company will increase earnings 10-fold, and the CEO increases earnings 8-fold, that does not mean the CEO has failed.  It means that the idiots in Wall Street bid the stock price too high.
          Read Warren Buffett and Benjamin Graham.  Search for “Mr. Market” (with the quotes).

      • Bob

        Martin does a great job of answering that below.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KH43IXTF6WZIQNDH6QUQTBXMMM Martin D

      My answer would be:  Sir, you have conviction.  But history has shown recently that you have conviction in all the wrong things.  Please step aside.

      • Guest

        Exactly. It’s not what he doesn’t know. It’s what he knows for sure that just ain’t so. 

        – the cloud is a fad
        – we’ll catch Google within a year
        – Zune can compete against iPod
        – Vista will be great
        – iPhone is too expensive and won’t get much share
        – iPad won’t succeed and nobody is going to buy that instead of a PC

        • Anonymous

          Well said.

  • Bob

    “YOU TELL ME if I lack energy or conviction, or we’re not driving all the change we need to drive.”

    Okay, I’ll bite. No on the former and emphatically yes on the latter. It’s ultimately about results, not effort. And his results don’t measure up.

  • Anonymous

    A HTML5 embed of the audio would have been much appreciated.

    • Guest

      What’s stopping you from installing the Flash player for your PC or device? The embed sounds good to me.

      • Jenna

        Around 1% of the mobile devices today have Flash support. That’s stopping us.

        It also sucks balls and makes our laptop batteries die way faster.

        • Anonymous

          Actually I know that at least tumblrs audio player which looks the same works in Flash Lite, which even dumbphones have had for years now, so it should work on basically any phone. Heck I just tried it on a freakin’ Symbian phone and it worked.

          Also Flash is faster and smoother than HTML5 at basically everything http://www.craftymind.com/guimark3/

          • Guest

            itards need their talking points. They hate being corrected with facts.

        • Guest

          1%? I’d think Android would have a higher market share than that, Jenna.

          I’d recommend upgrading your mobile phone and your laptop. My 3-year-old MacBook can run Flash and still last 6 hours on battery. Ditto my younger Android phone.

      • Anonymous

        It’s not about how “good” it sounds.

        • Guest

          Then what is it about, Dan? Tell me you didn’t buy a device that can’t be upgraded to run Flash, Dan.

          • Anonymous

            I’ve disabled Flash – what’s your problem? I was directing my comment to the editors.

  • Jenna

    The crowd sounded as dumb as he is.

  • Anonymous

    I stopped using all Microsoft products at the turn of the 21st century and have not regretted it even for a second. Computing is fun, productive, and reliable once you stop using any Microsoft products.

    • Guest

      yet here you are trolling.

  • http://twitter.com/grumpycola eka

    The mistake of MSFT is tying Windows (the software) to Desktop (the device).  Instead of improving its software so that it can work on multiple devices seamlessly, years ago, it concentrates to the exclusion of all others, to that single device. 

    “You can’t be productive without keyboard and mouse” that’s MSFT and Ballmer’s belief. 

    And that is what is fundamentally wrong with MSFT.    Computing is not about the device, computing is about usage and content. 

  • Dragonbite

    “You cut me open and saw what was inside: Windows. Windows. Windows. Windows,” Ballmer said. 
    Windows and the desktop in general is decreasing in its importance. Apple, tablets, Linux even are gaining ground because people want more than what Windows offer, without paying a large price-tag.
    Companies and stock prices do not live on what has been, but on what WILL be!  There isn’t anything “energizing” coming from Microsoft;  If there is something coming down the road, investors want to get in now, before the product is on sale!
    Windows 8? Just another Windows you have to purchase, for little gain.  Wndows Phone? Another late-entry into the phone market (and does Windows 8 and Phone tie in anywhere?).  Office 365? It’s yet another late-entry into the Cloud market.Live Office works better in Firefox and Chrome than it does in IE!  Much of Microsoft’s current gains are due to their position and not their innovation.  Take out the familiarity of Windows due to their monopoly on the desktop.  People are showing that they are willing to get used to new systems (iPad, Android, OS X and Linux are all gaining as Windows tries to maintain it’s position).

  • Dragonbite

    “You cut me open and saw what was inside: Windows. Windows. Windows. Windows,” Ballmer said. 
    Windows and the desktop in general is decreasing in its importance. Apple, tablets, Linux even are gaining ground because people want more than what Windows offer, without paying a large price-tag.
    Companies and stock prices do not live on what has been, but on what WILL be!  There isn’t anything “energizing” coming from Microsoft;  If there is something coming down the road, investors want to get in now, before the product is on sale!
    Windows 8? Just another Windows you have to purchase, for little gain.  Wndows Phone? Another late-entry into the phone market (and does Windows 8 and Phone tie in anywhere?).  Office 365? It’s yet another late-entry into the Cloud market.Live Office works better in Firefox and Chrome than it does in IE!  Much of Microsoft’s current gains are due to their position and not their innovation.  Take out the familiarity of Windows due to their monopoly on the desktop.  People are showing that they are willing to get used to new systems (iPad, Android, OS X and Linux are all gaining as Windows tries to maintain it’s position).

    • Guest

      “Apple, tablets, Linux even are gaining ground because people want more than what Windows offer, without paying a large price-tag.”

      Apple…without paying a large price-tag. Har har har

  • Anonymous

    I liked the inclusion of the audio file. Thanks

    • http://profiles.google.com/dalekstrauss Dale Strauss

      MSFT 2001 ($35.67)
                 2011 ($25.93)

      I’m no line plotter, but it looks like they are trading about their average for that time period as well…hmmmmmm…”the times, they ara a changin’ “

    • johnhcook

      We thought Ballmer’s energetic delivery of the remark about his passion for being CEO was important in telling the story, so glad you liked the clip. And speaking of audio from tech billionaires, don’t miss this story that we just posted on Mark Zuckerberg’s talk in Seattle yesterday. 

      http://www.geekwire.com/2011/transcript-audio-zuckerberg-apps-facebook-massively-disrupt-media-industries

  • Anonymous

    I liked the inclusion of the audio file. Thanks

  • johnhcook

    Interesting to contrast Ballmer’s remarks about the future of technology with what Zuckerberg (who was also in Seattle yesterday) had to say. I may contrast the two in a follow-up post, but for now here’s the post about the Facebook CEO’s talk: http://www.geekwire.com/2011/transcript-audio-zuckerberg-apps-facebook-massively-disrupt-media-industries

  • http://www.facebook.com/wolfcooper Ted Cooper

    is his windows cascaded

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