Ballmer exit interview details his love for Microsoft, Ford CEO's role in reorganization

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has given his first interview exclusively about stepping down as the company's chief executive sometime within the next year, giving perhaps the best glimpse at why Ford CEO Alan Mulally is considered a front-runner for the position.

The Wall Street Journal spoke with Ballmer and other Microsoft executives and board members regarding the CEO search, with the Microsoft CEO talking about his conversations with Mulally on how Ford focused on its brand. In the interview, Ballmer discussed how he and Mulally, a longtime friend, met at a Starbucks in Seattle to discuss Microsoft's position in the technology industry.

In the meeting, Ballmer says, he laid out Microsoft-powered smartphones and tablets on a table next to competitors' products, asking Mulally how he was able to turn around Ford, which had been struggling along with other U.S. car manufacturers. Mulally emphasized improved teamwork and simplifying Ford's brand was a key to that turnaround, according to Ballmer. Microsoft is known for having issues with brand perception and its internal teams fighting with one another.

Following their conversation, Ballmer says he decided to "remake my whole playbook" and Microsoft's brand. The eventual outcome of the decision was the "One Microsoft" reorganization plan Ballmer unveiled in July, with new divisions that emphasized more cooperation.

It's well known that Ballmer sought Mulally's advice, though the interview provides more context on the basis of those conversations; it also reveals why Mulally is widely considered a front-runner for Ballmer's position

The interview states the board was enthusiastic about the reorganization plan, and if Mulally was the inspiration behind it, it's clear to see why they would be similarly enthusiastic about the potential of him becoming Microsoft's next chief executive. Some outlets, however, have speculated that the board's interest in Mulally might exist because of a willingness to spin off or sell Microsoft's Xbox and Bing businesses. The speculation has now transferred to another candidate as well, as it's rumored Nokia executive Stephen Elop may consider selling or spinning off the businesses.

Despite the rumors, many financial outlets have disregarded the integration of Xbox and Bing in Microsoft's other products. Bing, for instance, powers the new search features in Windows 8.1, while Xbox provides the operating system's entertainment offerings, including games, music and videos. If Microsoft spun off Xbox, it would be the only developer of a major mobile operating system that didn't own its own integrated entertainment services.

"Please take good care of Microsoft," Ballmer said in the interview, showing his passion for the company's future even if he's not its CEO.

Source: The Wall Street Journal | Image via Microsoft

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What works for cars does not necessarily work for personal computers, as just witnessed with Microsoft. I wonder how the car buying public would react if the driver's position were moved to the center position of the back seat with the steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals replaced with a single joy stick? Aftermarket addons, at additional cost, would allow one to mostly replicate the traditional car layout. Think Windows XP, Vista, Windows-7 vs Windows-8.

TsarNikky said,
What works for cars does not necessarily work for personal computers, as just witnessed with Microsoft. I wonder how the car buying public would react if the driver's position were moved to the center position of the back seat with the steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals replaced with a single joy stick? Aftermarket addons, at additional cost, would allow one to mostly replicate the traditional car layout. Think Windows XP, Vista, Windows-7 vs Windows-8.

There is not such thing as a CEO specialist in some market.

Maybe Ballmer's forced resignation was because he wanted to go back to using Win 7. A former Ford CEO would have no idea about Win 7 vs Win 8, and follow the ideas of Win 8 fanboy managers. /s

Its just a pro-forma ritual, as are most exit interviews. Who in their right mind would give the real reason(s) for leaving (and then expect some kind of positive reference)?

Ballmer could have been quicker to react to the smartphone and tablet market but we will never know. Next console war will be an interesting one but after these consoles I don't see new ones coming out to such an excitement. PCs can do games much better than current consoles and since consoles aren't released as often, they can only loose. One of the reasons some are saying that Xbox should be sold off. However, MS is doing a great thing with integrating media features and making it more than a console, but at $100 more as well.

As far as PS4 being obsolete, that's just Spicoli, biggest MS fanboy being silly again. Not everyone that had a problem with DRM was a Sony fanboy.

glad to see him go. he was a force for negative in MSFT even if he cared a lot: he simply didn't know how to lead such big company.

and selling bing and xbox: bad idea. xbox, maybe, but until the xb1 drm fiasco, it was one of the most loved consumer brands. maybe just license the os to pc makers to torpedo the ps4 inability to adapt to competition from steam.

bing needs to stay. without it, msft cannot have a viable platform as it risks having to resort to google which will off course lock down their apis to prevent MSFT platform from searching, viewing videos or doing anything...in typical closed google way.

In business it all comes down to the financials which have been solid the last decade. They beat Apple on margin last quarter by whopping 8%. The "DRM fiasco" was a bunch of Sony viral marketing hype by a failing company desperate to find something the sell their already obsolete "new" console. They lost a massive 6 billion US last year.

neonspark said,
glad to see him go. he was a force for negative in MSFT even if he cared a lot: he simply didn't know how to lead such big company.

and selling bing and xbox: bad idea. xbox, maybe, but until the xb1 drm fiasco, it was one of the most loved consumer brands. maybe just license the os to pc makers to torpedo the ps4 inability to adapt to competition from steam.

bing needs to stay. without it, msft cannot have a viable platform as it risks having to resort to google which will off course lock down their apis to prevent MSFT platform from searching, viewing videos or doing anything...in typical closed google way.

On the other hand, Windows 7, Office 2010 and Xbox 360 were/are still the best products in their categories. I blame whoever convinced Ballmer to go forward with such a radical UI change across all their product categories (if you don't know what I mean, use Office 2010 Excel on Win 7 for a day, then Office 2013 Excel on Win 8 for a day - don't be surprised if your work becomes a bore and you start feeling depressed with the latter).

I have Office 2010 on Win7 at the office and Office 2013 on Win8 at home (tablet and PC). I prefer my home set-up.

I do think that Windows 8 needs a lot of improvement, especially on non-touch devices. However the UI change was needed. Its clear that the consumer space is changing radically. Especially when you check the average time spend on PCs in comparison to tablets. Microsoft cant afford to sit idle and repeat itself even if, for now, it remains profitable. I like this new pro-active Microsoft.

68k said,
On the other hand, Windows 7, Office 2010 and Xbox 360 were/are still the best products in their categories. I blame whoever convinced Ballmer to go forward with such a radical UI change across all their product categories (if you don't know what I mean, use Office 2010 Excel on Win 7 for a day, then Office 2013 Excel on Win 8 for a day - don't be surprised if your work becomes a bore and you start feeling depressed with the latter).

I consider 8, especially after the 8.1 changes, a superior UI to 7. We can now setup a quick launch start screen for our employees, and they no longer how to find stuff on the mess of a start menu containing 95% irrelevant things to their job. The task bar going across all the monitors is another significant improvement.

68k said,
So you're saying this (a three-color theme):
http://www.empowercs.com.au/bl...oads/2012/08/Excel_2013.jpg
looks aesthetically better than this?:
http://screenshots.en.sftcdn.n...1166/microsoft-excel-18.jpg
Sorry, I can't agree.

They could at least have made the new Start screen have transparency and gradients like Windows Media Center does (or did in Windows 7):
http://i1-news.softpedia-stati...ws-Vista-Media-Center-2.jpg

I had to open my own version of Office 2013 for a fair comparison. The screenshot you used was adding content to a cell and therefore most options in the ribon were grey, making it look more mono-tone.

There are more colors in the ribon of Office 2013. And the ribon holds the features, its where your attention should be. In my opinion all those effects in Office 2010 are only distracting.

Same goes for the transparency and gradiënt effects of WIndows Media Center. I'm not a fan of that look at all. I've compared them to my Windows 8.1 startscreen and I like my start screen much more.

I definitely prefer Office 2013 on Win 8 than Office 2010 on Win 7. I find the transparencies and gradients and such to be somewhat distracting. I really didn't like the ugly gray towards the bottom of Excel 2010. Office 2013 lets me focus on the content better. It also has subtle nice transitions than Office 2010.

As for the Start Screen, I definitely hope Microsoft gives it some refinement and maybe allow for small subtle gradients, maybe some more clear effects, etc. There are other areas I hope they address more though.

Why do all these guys want to sell Xbox and Bing? Their new platform is more then the sum of its parts. Windows (Phone) needs Bing because they need search for webcontent, images, documents, direction, etc. Google isn't going to help them out in that field.

With Xbox they are in the unique position to create a crossplatform entertainment brand that Google and Apple don't have. Because lets be honest for the average consumer Microsoft's offering isn't outshining that of the competition anymore. People can and are going around Windows, something unimaginable 5 years ago. Xbox is keeping Microsoft relevant to consumers.

I hope they will get a CEO that actually wants 'one microsoft' and make sure its more then jargon to please shareholders.

Spicoli said,
I think that's more rumor and speculation than anything. Their integration actions seems to say just the opposite.

I hope you're right but those actions are Ballmers. Didn't Elop already go on record that he would consider selling Bing and Xbox? Seems already a bit more then rumor and speculation.

Ronnet said,

I hope you're right but those actions are Ballmers. Didn't Elop already go on record that he would consider selling Bing and Xbox? Seems already a bit more then rumor and speculation.

No, Elop did not go on record on that. That story was "he may consider it" and was "from three people with knowledge of his thinking." The political situation is some shareholders want it to split because it will make them a lot of money short term.

Oh ok I thought hat the 'may consider' came straight from his own mouth. Happy to hear this isn't the case.

I know about these investors and any CEO would be a fool to lissen to them unless h too wants to quickly make a buck and leave. On the shortterm Im sure it would raise stockprice and allow some investors to leave wit a nice profit. But in the longterm I think it puts Microsoft in a severe disadvantage.

Lone, same could have been said about airplanes and cars but Mulally didnt get caught up that discussion and turned Ford around.

Lone Wanderer Chicken said,
Cars and software are two different things. I think Microsoft better off with someone who's experienced and knowledgeable in the computer/technology realm.

I don't think so at all. I think they need someone experienced at dealing with technical people and turf wars. Ditching their old employee evaluation system is just the start of that. If you've ever got in a support forwarding loop, you know how big those barriers are right now.

Lone Wanderer Chicken said,
Technology means software and hardware also. So Microsoft needs someone who's experienced in the technology/software/computer realm.

Pencils are are also technology. Pretty sure there is a f**k ton of technology going on at Ford.

Well, this puts to bed all the rumors that say he was forced out over whatever big issue pundits could think of. *cough* Windows 8 *cough*

Really? A man that loves the company so much is "stepping down". I think it just brings up more rumors about why he's leaving.

stevan said,
Really? A man that loves the company so much is "stepping down". I think it just brings up more rumors about why he's leaving.

Looks like Neowin didn't quote the same lines The Verge did. Basically, Ballmer retired on his own accord, however, the board was pressing him to move faster. Here's more:

"Maybe I'm an emblem of an old era, and I have to move on. As much as I love everything about what I'm doing, the best way for Microsoft to enter a new era is a new leader who will accelerate change."

So whatever rumors people could conjure up, have been killed right out with that paragraph. Change is here to stay at MIcrosoft, and the new CEO will now be pressured to keep pace.

http://www.theverge.com/2013/1...er-retirement-interview-wsj

Dot Matrix said,

Looks like Neowin didn't quote the same lines The Verge did. Basically, Ballmer retired on his own accord, however, the board was pressing him to move faster. Here's more:

"Maybe I'm an emblem of an old era, and I have to move on. As much as I love everything about what I'm doing, the best way for Microsoft to enter a new era is a new leader who will accelerate change."

So whatever rumors people could conjure up, have been killed right out with that paragraph. Change is here to stay at MIcrosoft, and the new CEO will now be pressured to keep pace.

http://www.theverge.com/2013/1...er-retirement-interview-wsj


I chose to focus Neowin's article on the company's future and why Microsoft may be considering Mulally; Tom chose to focus The Verge's article on why Ballmer is retiring. Just two different takeaways from the interview -- nothing wrong with that.

Anthony Tosie said,

I chose to focus Neowin's article on the company's future and why Microsoft may be considering Mulally; Tom chose to focus The Verge's article on why Ballmer is retiring. Just two different takeaways from the interview -- nothing wrong with that.

Never said there was. Sorry, hope my comment wasn't taken out of context.

Dot Matrix said,

Looks like Neowin didn't quote the same lines The Verge did. Basically, Ballmer retired on his own accord, however, the board was pressing him to move faster. Here's more:

"Maybe I'm an emblem of an old era, and I have to move on. As much as I love everything about what I'm doing, the best way for Microsoft to enter a new era is a new leader who will accelerate change."

So whatever rumors people could conjure up, have been killed right out with that paragraph. Change is here to stay at MIcrosoft, and the new CEO will now be pressured to keep pace.

http://www.theverge.com/2013/1...er-retirement-interview-wsj

Maybe for you and I have no problems with it; for me implies exactly the opposite as well as the fact that Ballmer is clearly pushing Mulally to replace him.

stevan said,
Really? A man that loves the company so much is "stepping down". I think it just brings up more rumors about why he's leaving.

BillG loved Microsoft and he stepped down. Do you want to claim the board forced him out?

Bill Gates is the only one who can save Microsoft (Like Jobs and Apple). It has become far too focused on profits, rather than product and usability under Ballmers reign.

WhatTheSchmidt said,

BillG loved Microsoft and he stepped down. Do you want to claim the board forced him out?


Any objective observer would not have any issue to recognize the differences between the two situations: different times and different board.

WhatTheSchmidt said,

BillG loved Microsoft and he stepped down. Do you want to claim the board forced him out?

Bill G left to manage the worlds biggest charity. Quite a bit different, but nice try.

dvb2000 said,
Bill Gates is the only one who can save Microsoft (Like Jobs and Apple). It has become far too focused on profits, rather than product and usability under Ballmers reign.

Um. What?

stevan said,

Bill G left to manage the worlds biggest charity. Quite a bit different, but nice try.

BillG loved Microsoft. BillG stepped down. That is what you wrote in your comment as a reason for creating rumors. That you now need to change what stepping down means just shows that you don't think through your comments, you just want to discredit Microsoft or their employees.

WhatTheSchmidt said,

BillG loved Microsoft. BillG stepped down. That is what you wrote in your comment as a reason for creating rumors. That you now need to change what stepping down means just shows that you don't think through your comments, you just want to discredit Microsoft or their employees.

I'm thinking Ballmer didn't do a good job and got forced out. Many companies and CEOs went through this. How you can spin this in a way that I'm discrediting a company or it's employees is beyond me.

Being a fanboy is one thing, but please be realistic.

stevan said,

I'm thinking Ballmer didn't do a good job and got forced out. Many companies and CEOs went through this. How you can spin this in a way that I'm discrediting a company or it's employees is beyond me.

Being a fanboy is one thing, but please be realistic.

It is not spin. He wasn't forced out, and yet you are using the simple fact that he decided to leave for himself and the company to create a giant conspiracy. That is how you are discrediting a company and an employee.

WhatTheSchmidt said,

It is not spin. He wasn't forced out, and yet you are using the simple fact that he decided to leave for himself and the company to create a giant conspiracy. That is how you are discrediting a company and an employee.

Actually we don't know for sure if he was forced out or not. That's why I said be realistic.

Lone Wanderer Chicken said,
Maybe Ballmer was asked to retire after the board of Microsoft got ahold and watched all the crazy videos of Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates.

Maybe it is just me but.... I love "The monkey dance". We can like or dislike the guy but one thing is unquestionable: he is passionate.

stevan said,

Actually we don't know for sure if he was forced out or not. That's why I said be realistic.

Yes, we do. He just said so himself that he is leaving on his own accord.

Dot Matrix said,

Yes, we do. He just said so himself that he is leaving on his own accord.

Right... Drink the cool aid buddy.

stevan said,

Right... Drink the cool aid buddy.

No Kool Aid. Ballmer said his words, and that's that. There's no conspiracy, no anger, no forcing.

Dot Matrix said,

No Kool Aid. Ballmer said his words, and that's that. There's no conspiracy, no anger, no forcing.


So said Richard Nixon when he resigned......

Fritzly said,

So said Richard Nixon when he resigned......

Well, then if you want to argue that: People had proof Nixon did things. Do you have proof that Ballmer was forced? If he was forced, why is he remaining around to work with the new CEO? If he was forced, why does Microsoft not show signs of reversing course? If he was forced, why wasn't his resignation effective immediately? If he was forced, why is Windows 8 still being developed for by both Microsoft and independent developers?

C'mon guys, use your heads.

Dot Matrix said,

Well, then if you want to argue that: People had proof Nixon did things. Do you have proof that Ballmer was forced? If he was forced, why is he remaining around to work with the new CEO? If he was forced, why does Microsoft not show signs of reversing course? If he was forced, why wasn't his resignation effective immediately? If he was forced, why is Windows 8 still being developed for by both Microsoft and independent developers?

C'mon guys, use your heads.

Because admitting to it would make their stock go down. The same stock he owns billions of.

stevan said,

Because admitting to it would make their stock go down. The same stock he owns billions of.

If there was proof, it would have leaked, not been said outright. There's nothing, therefore what you're saying is nothing more than fantasy.

Dot Matrix said,

If there was proof, it would have leaked, not been said outright. There's nothing, therefore what you're saying is nothing more than fantasy.

Really?

This time next year, Steve Ballmer will no longer be the CEO of the world's largest software company. The widely criticized executive announced last week that he planned to retire from his role as Microsoft's chief within the next year, and he penned a heartfelt letter to Microsoft employees as part of the announcement. While the maligned Microsoft boss said in interviews that the decision to leave was his, a new report from AllThingsD's always reliable Kara Swisher paints a different picture of Ballmer's departure.

Swisher says she interviewed dozens of people inside Microsoft and close to the company, and they say the Ballmer's imminent retirement was “neither planned nor as smooth as portrayed” by Microsoft or by Ballmer in interviews.

Dot Matrix said,

AllThingsD hardly counts as a credible Microsoft source. No other outlet ever reported that.

Great response. Now type "Ballmer forced to retire" in google and read a few pages.

But before you go and write something silly, know that I never said that he was forced out for sure. I'm just saying that it's a possibility and it might have happened with some of the decisions he made.

There's a lot out there than just rumors that he was forced out. His retirement package was mostly stocks, and announcing his forced exit would make that package smaller....

Dot Matrix said,

Well, then if you want to argue that: People had proof Nixon did things. Do you have proof that Ballmer was forced? If he was forced, why is he remaining around to work with the new CEO? If he was forced, why does Microsoft not show signs of reversing course? If he was forced, why wasn't his resignation effective immediately? If he was forced, why is Windows 8 still being developed for by both Microsoft and independent developers?

C'mon guys, use your heads.

First and foremost let me highlight the crucial difference between your post and mine: I posted that, in my opinion, Ballmer was "pressured" to resign earlier than planned; on the other hand your post is characterized as what you said is an unconfutable, final and absolute truth. Considering that most likely anybody here also seats in the Microsoft Board of Directors each and all postings are based on opinions.
Now let us focus on your arguments:
Some reasons why Ballmer will remain around to work with new CEO:
Cicero pro Domo Sua: Ballmer is one of the largest MS shareholders, obviously someone in such position would both like and be entitled to remain around.

Ballmer represent a certain percentage of shareholders who, although not in the majority, can demand and obtain to have him there.

Ballmer is so passionate about the company, and this is something I have no doubts about, that he wants to stay as close as possible to keep influencing its course.

Note that these as just few reasons why he will be around.

In real life companies are not managed like in the telenovelas therefore IF the prevailing majority in the Board will opt to modify, correct or even completely reverse the strategic plans it will obviously began to happen under the new CEO guidance.

Why should he had resigned immediately leaving the company without a guidance, with the stock plummeting, instead of skyrocketing up as it has happened, and undercutting his and his supporters ability to influence future events?

With reference to W8... I am sorry but your statement does not make any sense: do you really expect that Ballmer' successor even if W8 was the thing he/she most despised would announce its termination? Please let us be serious: not even Elop would do something so stupid, not to mention the personal financial repercussion being Elop another one of the largest MS shareholders.

Now, after replied to your arguments I will state the reasoning that makes me think that Ballmer was pressured to resign:

It is well known that the guy planned to retire much later than now; he even stated it himself. In fact, no matter which source you consult the news generated a lot of surprise because totally unexpected.

A quick search will list innumerous articles reporting that in the last ten years more and more shareholders manifested their dissatisfaction with Ballmer management and requested changes. ValueAct Capital, a recently added investor has been quite vociferous in its arguing for Ballmer resignation as well.

While all these reasons do not prove with a 100% certainty that Ballmer was requested to step down, I reiterate, something that I never presented as an absolute and certain fact, they surely substantiate the strong possibility that it happened.