Microsoft’s barrel-chested chief executive, renowned for his wonderfully over-zealous business presentations, is to retire from the business within the next year, the company said today.
Steve Ballmer, who earned the moniker “Monkey Boy” after arriving on stage jumping and whooping in front of his audience at the company’s 25th anniversary, has more recently come under pressure as the software giant fell behind rivals in the fast-growing market for smart phones and tablets.
Mr Ballmer, the company’s 30th employee, met Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates while both were studying at Harvard University in the 1970s. Joining the young business in 1980, he assumed the reins in 2000 of what by then was a software behemoth after Mr Gates stepped back to become chairman and spend more time working on his charitable foundation.
Unfortunately for investors, his seemingly boundless energy – which landed him in hospital after he reportedly damaged his vocal cords shouting “Windows! Windows!” at a sales meeting in Japan – did nothing for Microsoft, as scrappy Silicon Valley rivals such as Apple and Google colonised the market in new technologies.
News of his retirement sent Microsoft’s shares higher by around 8 per cent at one point in the morning, as the markets welcomed the prospect of a change at the top.
Microsoft said Mr Ballmer, whose personal net worth is estimated at around $15bn by Forbes magazine, would leave once a special committee of the board chooses a successor. Mr Gates will help select the company’s next boss.
News of Mr Ballmer’s departure comes on the heels of a company-wide move to reorganise the business, after he set in motion a plan to restructure Microsoft in a way that spurs the development of new products. The sweeping shake-up, unveiled last month, was seen as the company’s newest attempt to play catch-up with rivals.
“There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” Mr Ballmer said. “We have embarked on a new strategy with a new organisation and we have an amazing senior leadership team. My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our company’s transformation to a devices and services company. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction.”
The last year has been a particularly tough one for Mr Ballmer. He spearheaded the launch of the newest avatar of Microsoft’s operating system – Windows 8 – and a line of tablet devices. Neither, however, has had the kind of the success that the company would have hoped for. Last month, it posted quarterly results that were below expectations in terms of both revenues and profits.