Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer To Retire Within A Year

Image via Flickr/ Javier Domínguez Ferreiro

Tech junkies, you can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Microsoft’s longtime Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer has announced that he will retire within the next 12 months, according to a press release published this morning.

Ballmer, who joined the company in 1980 and has been CEO since Bill Gates retired in January 2000, announced that he will officially retire as soon as the corporation names a successor. The 57-year-old has done quite well for himself, with a current net worth of $15.2 billion and the rank of 22 on Forbes’ list of wealthiest Americans.

But during Ballmer’s long reign as CEO, Microsoft hasn’t done quite as well. Both Ballmer and Microsoft alike have received criticism for the company’s direction and priorities over the years.

By the numbers, Microsoft peaked at $60 per share in 2000, the year Ballmer stepped up. Since then, shares dropped into the $20s and have remained there aside from the occasional appearance in the low $30s. Critics agree this is because Microsoft simply hasn’t kept up with a changing electronics world.

Other tech giants like Google and Apple spent the last 13 years branching out into fast-growing markets – like mobile music, tablets and search engines – while Microsoft largely stuck to the PC market.

Critics say the company’s stagnation is exclusively Ballmer’s fault, who has long been known for his antics. In May 2012, Forbes writer Adam Hartung ranked Ballmer at the top of his list of CEOs who should have already been fired. Hartung wrote unforgivingly, “Without a doubt, Mr. Ballmer is the worst CEO of a large publicly traded American company today.” He goes on argue that in addition to preventing growth of Microsoft, Ballmer’s unwillingness to change the company has hurt related tech companies such as Dell and Hewlett Packard that depend on the success of Microsoft products.

Kurt Massey, a former senior marketing manager at Microsoft, likens the once-reigning company to the department store Sears. “In the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, Sears had it nailed. It was top-notch, but now it’s just a barren wasteland. And that’s Microsoft. The company just isn’t cool anymore.”

Now that Ballmer has announced his impending departure, it could mean big things for Microsoft. Ballmer announced last month a complete internal restructure in order to jumpstart the company and put greater emphasis on tablets and smartphones. And judging by the CEO’s memo to his staff, the committee to search for a new CEO will look for someone to continue steering Microsoft in this new direction.

Ballmer’s memo to his staff highlights this continuing optimism as he ignores past criticisms. “Microsoft has all its best days ahead,” he wrote. “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.”

This seems to mean that in the future, we could be seeing the sorts of technological advances we once expected of Microsoft. But who could bring the company up to speed in the tech world and lead it into the future? Right now, it’s anyone’s guess. The search committee, which includes the company’s founder and current chairman Bill Gates, will consider both internal and external candidates for the CEO position.

Bill Gates himself may not be too broken up about the departure. In an interview with Charlie Rose earlier this year, Gates said Ballmer has spearheaded company projects like Windows 8, and the Xbox.

He added, “But is it enough? No, he and I are not satisfied that, in terms of breakthrough things, that we’re doing everything possible.”

Over the next few months, we’ll be sure to learn more about internal developments at Microsoft and how the company plans to adapt and evolve. Perhaps Gates and the tech community will be a little more satisfied with the newcomer.