WSJ interview: Steve Ballmer talks about why he’s leaving Microsoft

ballmer-headshotWhen Steve Ballmer abruptly announced his retirement in August, it took the tech world by surprise. Now, the outgoing CEO has let the world in on some of the process that led to his decision to step down.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Ballmer detailed the events leading up to his departure. As it turns out, the speed of his departure is at least partially related to its cause. The company’s board wanted Ballmer to change Microsoft, and to do it quickly. Ballmer had planned to stay in the job until his youngest son had left high school, and lead the charge as the company moved to change.

But the process proved difficult. The interview describes Ballmer trying to get people to buy into new initiatives that deviated from Microsoft’s previous direction, and receiving plenty of push-back, because over his past tenure, he never did things that way before.

“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 told the WSJ. “At the end of the day, we need to break a pattern. Face it: I’m a pattern.”

Notably absent from the WSJ’s story is Bill Gates, who many notable tech figures hoped would take up the mantle of CEO, at least temporarily, after Ballmer’s departure. While his background with Ballmer (and the fact that he sat in the CEO’s office for the board’s conference call to accept Ballmer’s retirement) were both mentioned, it’s unclear what role, if any, the Microsoft co-founder and chairman played in his successor’s departure from the company.

A source that the WSJ notes as “familiar with Mr. Gates’s thinking,” said that the chairman was in favor of Ballmer leaving Microsoft if it ensured the company “remains successful,” but it’s not clear if he was involved with any of the pressure to change the company.

Check out the Journal’s full interview with Ballmer here.

  • Harkonnen

    So, basically, he was told to leave. Looks like even Bill has a breaking point.

    • Guest

      Constructive dismissal is how I would characterize it. Basically keep upping the pressure until the candidate quits. Don’t think it had much to do with Bill reaching a breaking point though. Available evidence says the pressure was coming from external investors, not Bill. Bill’s role seems to have been to realize investors were serious this time and finally accept Ballmer’s removal. It’s sad really. Because Bill and the board deserve more blame for what has transpired since 2000 than even Steve. They picked him and kept him in place.

  • Guest

    “it’s unclear what role, if any, the Microsoft co-founder and chairman played in his successor’s departure from the company.”

    Pretty obviously the role he played, as they mention, is to finally say “yeah, you can get rid of Steve” so long as you don’t tear the company apart and sell off the pieces.

    Anyway, now that we know they’ve known about this since May, should we really still be waiting on who the successor will be?