Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer just finished speaking at the company’s annual shareholder meeting — his final one as the company’s leader — and while he didn’t directly address calls for the company to spin off its Xbox and Bing businesses, he called out those divisions as key parts of Microsoft’s broader vision.
Referring to the new Xbox One, he cited the integration of products including Bing and SkyDrive as examples of the unified strategy that is bringing together the company’s various devices and services. Microsoft this morning released new details about how Bing will integrate with Xbox One for natural language search in the new console.
Xbox One is “a reflection of what is possible when a company, our company, is unified under a common vision,” Ballmer said. He also noted that Bing is key to helping test and improve the company’s Windows Azure service.
Ballmer talked about the company’s pending Nokia Devices & Services acquisition, which Nokia shareholders approved this morning.
“This is really a signature moment in the transformation of the company,” he said, predicting that the deal will accelerate Microsoft’s position in Windows Phones, tablets and PCs, by bringing Nokia’s devices teams aboard.
He concluded, “Microsoft is uniquely positioned to drive and define the next big thing.”
The first shareholder question from the audience was about acquisitions, encouraging the company to be more cautious about spending billions on big deals. Ballmer acknowledged the need to be careful, but also said that “bolder plays” can be necessary at times.
“Now, bigger acquisitions should be done with great thought and caution,” he said. “Certainly our aQuantive acquisition is not going to go down in the record books as a success. It wasn’t, and I take responsibility for that.”
Bill Gates is not on the stage for the Q&A period, instead sitting with other members of the Microsoft board in the front row. The Microsoft chairman earlier gave opening remarks to shareholders and choked up when talking about Ballmer’s impending departure and the company’s future.
On the question of privacy and security, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said this in response to a shareholder question:
“We all want to live in a country and a world that’s safe and secure,” he said. “But it is a business imperative that we maintain our customers’ trust in every country of the world. We’re focused on engineering improvements that will further strengthen security, including strengthening security against snooping by governments.
Without citing Google by name, he noted that Microsoft doesn’t scan email or files to deliver ads.
The final question was fitting: Why isn’t Microsoft’s share price going up? Ballmer responded by citing a disconnect between profits and the share price.
“Our stock price is 60% of what it was when I took over as CEO and profits are three times,” he said. “I trust the company will continue to focus in on what’s real, which is long-term profit creation.” If that happens, he said, “the share price will go up. I feel confident about that.”