Microsoft’s presentation of the departure of CEO Steve Ballmer as a planned, smooth transition may not be exactly truthful, say sources close to the situation. They assert that it was neither planned, nor smooth.
While the decision to go seems to have technically been Ballmer’s, interviews with dozens of people inside and outside the company, including many close to the situation, indicate that he had not aimed to leave this soon and especially after the recent restructuring of the company that he had intensely planned.
Instead, it seems that Ballmer’s timeline was shortened drastically, first by himself, and then Microsoft’s nine-member board, (including Bill Gates), after all agreed it would be best to see him make a quicker ride off into the sunset.
Reasons for the shortened transition timeline include a potentially nasty proxy fight in the near future, continued business declines, and the fact that Ballmer, and his leadership at the company, was becoming a point of attraction for company detractors.
It is believed that Ballmer had lost the steadfast support from Microsoft founder Bill Gates that he had enjoyed in the past. Ballmer’s letter to employees about his impending departure contained no references, or a thank you to Gates, the man who Ballmer’s career at Microsoft had been connected to for lo, these many years.
While Gates did not ask Ballmer to step down, sources say, he also did not disagree, as he has in the past, that it was time for Ballmer to move on.
“Did Gates instigate it? No,” said one source with knowledge of the situation. “But was he as supportive of Ballmer as he had been in the past? Maybe not.”
What most observers will judge Ballmer’s reign at Microsoft on are simply the numbers.
AllThingsD’s John Paczkowski wrote on Friday: “Here’s one metric by which Ballmer will be judged harshly. On the last day of 1999, the day before he took over as CEO, Microsoft’s market capitalization was $600 billion. On the day before he announced his intention to retire, it was less than $270 billion.”