We have seen many charismatic CEOs and even know a few things about them personally. But none other than Steven Anthony Ballmer has the characteristic effervescent energy, explicit enthusiasm and sheer passion for what he does. The intonation in “I Love This Company” (during the famous ‘developers, developers’ speech) – speak volumes about his determined dedication. You would not henceforth see anyone expressing themselves on the stage with an aura of intense energy that sets the stage on fire. Ballmer did a remarkable job at increasing the revenues and diversifying the product lines. However, he was responsible in missing the mobile buzz which proved to be disastrous to Microsoft in that arena.
Steve Ballmer did his job and it was in no way a lackluster performance. Terming his period at the reins of Microsoft as “A lost Decade” is immaturity. The drop in the share price during early 2001 is a case of ‘tech bubble burst’. Not just Microsoft, almost all major technology companies lost several billion dollars of market value. The share values of all major tech companies dropped to historic lows. It so happened that Ballmer took over an year before as the CEO. And that worldwide low down is not due to Ballmer taking over as CEO of Microsoft, not at all.
If media has to report, it would squarely blame Ballmer for the Global Economic recession, it would blame Ballmer for the Great Depression during the 1930’s and also for the two world wars. However Ballmer has nothing to do with any of these.
During his period, Microsoft has tripled its revenues. It is an amazing feat considering it was a giant already and generally speaking, giants may not leap three times high in a decade. Ballmer made sure that Microsoft does not survive with Windows alone. He initiated the diversification into several sub units – each worth several billion dollars – all under one roof – that is Microsoft. This again is a tremendous achievement considering the size of the Company.
He did miss the mobile just like Gates missed the internet. But Microsoft is now a major player on the internet and is a well respected brand on the cloud. Having missed the initial frenzy, it took Microsoft a decade to become a major player – but they are there. In 2007, Nobody expected smartphones would become the next big thing – even Steve Jobs would not have envisaged this much of a success. At that time, Steve Jobs had nothing much to loose – it was his survival attempt and he succeeded at it. Ballmer did lack some vision here considering Microsoft’s penetration in the PC segment. When iPhones came out, there were no suitable competitor for two long years – which helped Apple gain a huge market share. Android came from nowhere and in three years, it overtook iPhone. This was a time when people badly needed an alternate recourse to iPhones. Windows Phones came to the party pretty late and is now a distant third. But capturing an already saturated market is a huge effort and it is interesting to see how Microsoft is gaining fast in this Market worldwide. The major mistake of Ballmer is not stepping up and launching Windows based Mobile OS in late 2009 – when people were really looking forward for an able competitor. This is by far the only major failure of Microsoft under Ballmer. Missing the mobile market is not just Ballmer’s fault. The board and the top employees were equally responsible. But looking at the prevailing trends in Australia, the European Union and the emerging markets (except China) in Asia, Windows Phone is on the way to become the second most popular Operating System. That is a good gain especially for someone who entered the market annoyingly late. If Ballmer is responsible for the mishaps, then he is responsible for this turnaround too.
Ballmer’s vision is proving to be right in the case of loss making Bing. If Bing is discontinued, there would be an immediate short term gain but Microsoft would be no where in Search and Google would gain almost 98% of the market. Agreed, Bing is not taking away any market share from Google – it is not yet equipped to. But again, it is a long term vision. Bing was launched during 2009 and it has been roughly 4 years since. Grabbing a 18% market share within 4 years is good enough – if not exemplary. Sure, it is not enough, but again it is not something that should be written off. The investment on Bing is starting to pay off – slowly but steadily. Media made Ballmer look like a villain whereas in reality he has been almost a hero by and large.
Microsoft is a huge ship and it did look a bit dated. It is Steve Ballmer who set the course of transformation. In the next 5 years Microsoft is set to gain immensely. Microsoft has traditionally reinvented itself and had succeeded. It is doing it one more time and this time it is poised to succeed in a big way. But unfortunately for Ballmer, the new CEO would take most of the credit whereas Ballmer would end up taking all the blame.
A large section of people still respect Ballmer and would still want him to continue – with an updated vision, same energy and new ideas.