It was quite the eye opener for Microsoft workers as it pinged through in-boxes around the world Friday. After 13 years at the helm, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer announced he is stepping down as CEO.
“My girlfriend woke me up this morning and said, ‘I don’t know if this is a big deal, but Steve Ballmer is retiring,’” said Microsoft worker Hitesh Kanwathirtha. “I figured it’s a pretty big deal, so I got up.”
The news comes amidst a major overhaul of the company's management structure. In a statement released Friday, Ballmer said "now is the right time" for someone to take the company in a new direction.
Ballmer will leave office some time during the next 12 months. A Harvard buddy of Bill Gates, Ballmer spent 30 years with Microsoft, but struggled to take the company into the 21st century world of cell phones and tablets.
Digesting the news over lunch at Redmond’s Malt & Vine, Microsoft manager Curtis Man said the company is poised for a comeback. “Right now there is a lot of potential. There are a lot of new products coming out, definitely a lot of exciting things that could happen.”
Under Ballmer's leadership Microsoft flopped with the "Zune" -- its answer to the iPod. In 2007, Ballmer famously underestimated a little thing called the iPhone, laughing out loud during a broadcast interview. A new survey of Microsoft workers by Glassdoor gives Ballmer just a 47 percent approval rating. That's actually up 20 points from two years ago.
Ballmer’s greatest success came with the X-Box, widely considered the gaming industry standard. But the company that was once so powerful the U.S. government tried to break it up is now perceived by many as a B-lister that has lost its luster.
“You’re inheriting quite a Pandora's box with Microsoft,” said Renay San Miguel, a former national tech correspondent who also worked with Microsoft's public relations wing.
He believes the company needs to look to a fresher face for its new CEO. It would likely be someone from outside the company, possibly from the mobile communications sector.
“Microsoft is so big, it couldn’t maneuver as quickly as it needed to to keep up with the products we now see everywhere,” he said.
San Miguel thinks the new CEO needs to make the giant more quick and nimble, while pushing it back to its aggressive, entrepreneurial origins.
“They kind of need to go to a start-up mentality,” he said. “They need to go back-to-the-future with Microsoft.”