On January 13, 2000, at a press conference, Bill Gates (b. 1953) turns over leadership of Microsoft to Steve Ballmer (b. 1956). Gates retains his position as chairman of the board and takes the title of chief software architect, while Ballmer adds the role of CEO to his existing position as president of the company.
Gates made the move after 25 years of building Microsoft Corp. into the world's largest software company -- and, in the process, making himself the world's richest person. It was no surprise to Microsoft employees or those in the media, since Gates had in recent years been increasingly focusing on his family and on philanthropic efforts. In 1998, he had made Ballmer president, which was widely seen as the beginning of Gates's edging out of a daily role in managing the company.
Some speculated that Gates dropped the position of CEO to give Microsoft some protection from an attempt by the Department of Justice to break up the company because of alleged anticompetitive practices. "Gates was the driver of the monopolistic part of the DOJ case," analyst Matthew Nordan of Forrester Research, told a reporter "This was like putting him in the passenger seat" (Andrews).
But Gates said the DOJ action "had absolutely no bearing" on his decision (Andrews). And subsequent events demonstrated that Gates's move away from the company was real. By 2008, Gates had ended his daily role at Microsoft.
At the press conference, both Gates and Ballmer pushed the idea of Microsoft merging its Windows operating system and applications with the Internet.
The Shift to Ballmer
The transition marked a major shift in Microsoft's public persona. One analyst noted, "Mr. Ballmer's appointment helps put a different public face on Microsoft at a tension-filled time. Though a combative competitor who has personally directed some of Microsoft's toughest sales campaigns, Mr. Ballmer nevertheless has retained a reputation as a friendly, collegial executive who is as close to customers as Mr. Gates is close to technology" (Bank).
Ballmer, a friend of Bill Gates at Harvard in the early 1970s, joined Microsoft in 1980 as business manager. In subsequent years, his roles included senior vice president of sales and support, senior vice president of systems software, and vice president of marketing.
In addition to overseeing the integration of Microsoft operating systems and applications with the Internet, Ballmer also shepherded Microsoft's move into providing data-center services and developing its Xbox entertainment system.
Even so, Ballmer's tenure did not escape criticism. "Without a doubt, Mr. Ballmer is the worst CEO of a large publicly traded American company today," wrote Adam Hartung of Forbes magazine in 2012. "Not only has he singlehandedly steered Microsoft out of some of the fastest growing and most lucrative tech markets (mobile music, handsets and tablets) but in the process he has sacrificed the growth and profits of not only his company but “ecosystem” companies such as Dell, Hewlett Packard and even Nokia" (Hartung).
Nevertheless, according to Microsoft figures, since Ballmer took over the helm in 2000, the company tripled revenues and doubled profits. Ballmer announced in August 2013 that he would retire within a year, after a successor was chosen.