Steve Ballmer reveals the reason he decided to retire

Steven Loeb · November 16, 2013 · Short URL:

Nobody forced him out, but the board of directors made it clear that they wanted someone faster

It's been around three months since Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced that he would be retiring within a year.  Ballmer, of course, is only the company's second ever CEO, taking over the role from Bill Gates in January of 2000.

And now we are finally getting the details of why he decided to step down after nearly 14 years on the job. And they are coming from the man himself.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Friday, Ballmer finally revealed what happened. It turn out that nobody forced him out, but that it was actually the company's the board of directors that made him feel that it was time to go. And that this was not an easy decision for him to make.

It started in January, on a conference call with the board, in which Ballmer tried to tell them about his plan to remake the company. But the board told him, basically, that he was too slow.

"Hey, dude, let's get on with it," lead director John Thompson said to him. "We're in suspended animation."

That comment set off a chain of events that led to Ballmer's decision to step down.

"Maybe I'm an emblem of an old era, and I have to move on," Ballmer said.  "As much as I love everything about what I'm doing the best way for Microsoft to enter a new era is a new leader who will accelerate change."

Thompson admitted that the board was pushing Ballmer to go faster. The board "didn't push Steve to step down," he said, "but we were pushing him damn hard to go faster."

And when Ballmer did try to comply with this demand, including instituting a massive reorganization, it apparently threw his team off, who were not used to this new management style.

"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," said Ballmer. 

And so, being in a situation where he was damned if he did, or damned if he didn't, Ballmer decided that retirement was the best option.

When the decision was announced Ballmer sent a note to Microsoft employees, explaining his decision.

He was retiring, he said, because it is "in the best interests of the company I love."

"Microsoft has all its best days ahead. Know you are part of the best team in the industry and have the right technology assets. We cannot and will not miss a beat in these transitions. I am focused and driving hard and know I can count on all of you to do the same. Let’s do ourselves proud."

The company is still searching for Ballmer's replacement,  with Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulallym and former Nokia Oyj CEO Stephen Elop, as of the most likely candidates.

Business development and evangelism chief Tony Bates, Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner, and 
executive vice president of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise group Satya Nadella, are all being considered as well.

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