#steve ballmer

Lots of good nuggets from Dina Bass, Beth Jinks and Peter Burrows on the end of the Steve Ballmer tenure at Microsoft:

Several directors and co-founder and then-Chairman Bill Gates — Ballmer’s longtime friend and advocate — initially balked at the move into making smartphones, according to people familiar with the situation. So, at first, did Nadella, signaling his position in a straw poll to gauge executives’ reaction to the deal. Nadella later changed his mind.

Strike 1. And in other words, Nadella was against it before he was for it. We’ll see how that ends up playing out now that he’s the man…

Ballmer was so loud that day in June his shouts could be heard outside the conference room, people with knowledge of the matter said. He’d just been told the board didn’t back his plan to acquire two Nokia units, according to people with knowledge of the meeting. He later got most of what he wanted, with the board signing off on a $7.2 billion purchase of Nokia’s mobile-phone business, but by then the damage was done.

Strike 2. But:

The tablet Microsoft finally came out with in October 2012, the Surface, was a dud. Windows 8, with a touch-based design, was released to mixed reviews. The smartphone operating system, Windows Phone, wasn’t a hit either — but Ballmer remained committed to it. A deadline was looming that would result in one of his last rolls of the dice.

Nokia made about 80 percent of handsets using Windows Phone, and the arrangement was set to expire in February 2014. Nokia had been dropping hints it might start making devices to run on Google’s Android platform. Ballmer needed a way to keep Nokia in Microsoft’s world.

Hard to see what other choice Ballmer had. Without Nokia, Windows Phone was effectively finished. Instead, Ballmer was. He struck out.

One more thing:

As Microsoft continued to lag behind rivals, some directors grew more unhappy. Ballmer had introduced Mulally as part of the company’s succession planning, and those on the board looking for ways to move Ballmer out talked in July about hiring the Ford CEO as a way to persuade the CEO to step down. In August, Ballmer, 57, announced he would retire, earlier than planned.

Interesting that it was Ballmer who ushered Mulally into the Microsoft mix, effectively sealing his fate…

Mary Jo Foley:

When Microsoft co-founder and then-chief executive Bill Gates hired Ballmer from Procter & Gamble in 1980, it was to be “the business guy, whatever that meant,” Ballmer says. Since that day, his rallying cry has always been “How do you make money? How do you make money? How do you make money?” (Imagine him chanting this in the same way he hollered “Developers, developers, developers!” at a now-famous company summit in 2000. Now picture him doing so, calmly, as he kicks back in an upholstered chair in his office in Building 34 on the company’s Redmond campus.)

"That doesn’t mean nobody else ever thought about it, but ‘How do you make money?’ was what I got hired to do," Ballmer says. "I’ve always thought that way."

As CEO, Ballmer brought a new level of business rigor to Microsoft. Instead of allowing hundreds of products to bloom because they sounded potentially interesting or trendy, Ballmer required of business justification, often in excruciating detail. Only then would he give new businesses his stamp of approval.

"I would say that it has been a hallmark of mine since arrival," Ballmer says. "I’ve always had the unique, valuable perspective of being on the front line selling, working with our partners, because in some senses your ability to understand how to make money is heavily shaped by what you think people will pay for, in addition to what it costs to get things done."

You can certainly argue that this “How do you make money?” mantra (rule of three, intact!) has led to a lack of innovation (or at least, a lack of innovation that has seen the light of day) at Microsoft. But you cannot argue that Ballmer did not do what he set out to do: make a shit-ton of money for Microsoft.

Overall, a very solid and insightful interview.

You simply have to watch the video Tom Warren posted from the event. It’s surreal. A man, alone on stage, in the spotlight, in the middle of dark KeyArena (the arena in Seattle where the SuperSonics used to play). And that somehow seems fitting given that it was more like the farewell of a beloved musician or athlete — complete with Ballmer exiting by running through the tunnel to the locker room while high-fiving screaming fans.

It’s easy to make fun of this — "The Time of My Life", really?! — but it’s quite clear that this is beyond sincere. It’s too bizarre and raw not to be. Steve Ballmer really did LOVE. THIS. COMPANY.

What A Difference Six Years Makes…

Steve Ballmer, 2007:

Right now we’re selling millions and millions and millions of phones a year. Apple is selling zero phones a year.

Steve Ballmer, a few months later:

It’s sort of a funny question. Would I trade 96% of the market for 4% of the market? (Laughter.) I want to have products that appeal to everybody.

Now we’ll get a chance to go through this again in phones and music players. There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.

Steve Ballmer, yesterday:

Mobile devices. We have almost no share.

Nick Wingfield on the surreal tale of the Microsoft/Nokia negotiations:

Mr. Ballmer and Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, were walking across the law firm’s lobby, when Mr. Ballmer — absorbed in reading a document from Nokia related to the deal — tripped on a glass coffee table. Letting out a loud shriek, Mr. Ballmer fell to floor, hit his head and began bleeding above his eyebrow.

Executives from Nokia sequestered in a conference room elsewhere in the offices were baffled by the sound, wondering whether Mr. Ballmer was reacting badly to a counter-proposal they had made. His security detail patched him up, and Mr. Ballmer resumed negotiations.

By the afternoon of the next day, participants in the discussions noticed the coffee table was gone.

I’m not sure which is more strange:

a) This detail.

b) That Ina Fried is reporting nearly the exact same weird story at the exact same time.

Also odd: that it was seemingly Nokia’s mapping service which was the single biggest holdup in the deal. That shows just how far the handset business has fallen. “Leave the maps, take the handsets.

I think we can probably do better for consumer names than ‘Nokia Lumia Windows Phone 1020. Yet, because of where both companies are and the independent nature of the businesses, we haven’t been able to shorten that. … Now, we can simplify the overall consumer branding and messaging gets much simpler. That is an efficiency of being one company.

Steve Ballmer, speaking during a conference call on the Nokia deal this morning. 

I mean, he actually said this — while typing on his Microsoft Surface RT with Windows RT featuring Office 2011 Pro Plus with Microsoft Live SkyDrive for Enterprise Workgroups using Azure for the Cloud 2013 Bing Edition 7.43 and a Touch Cover. 

Whoa nelly. A few quick thoughts:

1) Inevitable.

2) This seems to take the drama out of the Microsoft CEO search. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop (a former Microsoftie) was already widely considered a leading contender — and now Microsoft has 7.2 billion more reasons to go with him. It also seems likely he would be a good candidate to carry out the “One Microsoft” initiative that Steve Ballmer has already put in place.

3) Fairly big demotion for Julie Larson-Green following her big promotion just last year. Unless… see: #2.

4) So why not just announce Elop as the new CEO now? Because the deal won’t close until Q1 2014. The biggest potential hiccup there is Nokia shareholders approving it.

5) From a pure dollar perspective, this seems to be quite the deal from what Microsoft was rumored to be considering paying just a few years ago.

6) Though it’s not nearly as good of a deal as Apple got to bring Steve Jobs back on board — $400 million in 1996 dollars.

7) Microsoft is taking on 32,000 new employees?!

8) It’s actually a pretty decent use of overseas cash, which would otherwise be taxed if repatriated.

9) Lighting the money on fire would have also saved it from being taxed.

Shria Ovide:

Microsoft Corp. is giving a board seat to an activist investor for the first time, a landmark move that comes only a week after Chief Executive Steve Ballmer disclosed he would step aside.

Announced in the waning moments before the Labor Day holiday, Microsoft said it would appoint a director from ValueAct Capital Management LP early next year. It would be the first time the company had ever appointed a director not solely at its discretion.

Microsoft tried to bury the Ballmer announcement last Friday, and now a week later, they’re trying to bury this. But this is also big news — this will have a potentially huge impact on the shape of future Microsoft. Let’s see if this leads to a bigger shake-up of Board as well.

Davin O’Dwyer:

In 1962, the head of A&R at Decca Records, Dick Rowe, rejected the chance to sign the Beatles, allegedly telling Brian Epstein that the foursome had no chance of making it in the music industry.

Reality, of course, proved otherwise and, despite Rowe’s other successes in the business, he was from that point on destined to be remembered as the buffoon who couldn’t spot how amazing the Beatles were.

Now replace “music label A&R man” with “technology company chief executive” and “the Beatles” with “the iPhone”, and you might get a picture of the fate history has in store for Steve Ballmer.

Dead on. One statement, right or wrong, will come to define Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft legacy: “No chance the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.”

To be fair, Ballmer was talking about the $500 subsidized iPhone — a model which Apple later moved away from (complete with a partial refund to initial buyers). But the entire reaction is ridiculous. It’s Goliath not only laughing at David, but almost refusing to acknowledge he even exists in the first place.

"Right now, we’re selling millions and millions and millions of phones a year, Apple is selling zero phones a year." Maybe the dumbest statement in the history of tech. Certainly the most ill-advised.

All made a million times worse by the fact that just a few years later, the iPhone would become a bigger business than all of Microsoft.

That’s why I think death is the most wonderful invention of life. It purges the system of these old models that are obsolete. I think that’s one of Apple’s challenges, really. When two young people walk in with the next thing, are we going to embrace it and say this is fantastic? Are you going to be willing to drop our models, or are we going to explain it away? I think we’ll do better, because we’re completely aware of it and we make it a priority.

Steve Jobs, in an interview with Playboy in February of 1985 (as recalled by The Next Web). 

I love this quote in the context of the recent changes atop Microsoft. Steve Ballmer spent too much energy guarding old models, and too little embracing news ones while explaining them away.

Steve Jobs, by the way, was just 30 years old when he said this. He was still one of the “young people”.