While there are some who would argue that outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer isn't someone to whom others should be listening for management advice, I disagree.
I'm not saying Ballmer didn't make mistakes during the last 13 years he occupied the Microsoft CEO hotseat. (Nor would Ballmer himself make that claim.) But I'd also say there's a reason the Microsoft board wasn't encouraging him to abandon the CEO post until fairly recently. Microsoft still makes money, and a lot of it.
I had a chance to ask Ballmer during a late November 2013 interview I had with him in Redmond for his top management tips for other CEOs. I shared his lessons learned in a contributed piece for Fortune that you can read here: "5 management tips from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer."
- Make sure you see the whole playing field
- Don't pin hopes on a single individual or "dream team"
- Realize there's no perfect business model perfect for every era
- Don't place only long-term or only short-term bets
- Know your limits
As an admittedly business/sales-focused guy, Ballmer's advice isn't applicable just for tech CEOs. And his lessons learned should carry weight, argued another Microsoft watcher, Wes Miller, a research analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a research outfit in Kirkland, Wash.
"Two things stand out to me as I consider Microsoft during Steve’s tenure as CEO. During the last 14 years, Microsoft was able to make huge strides into the enterprise, and make numerous product lines pervasive worldwide. Not just in terms of money or marketshare, but these technologies have an impact on business users worldwide on a daily basis," said Miller, who also worked at Microsoft from 1997 to 2004.
"To a large degree, Steve was able to do this while keeping much of the original spirit of Microsoft under (Chairman) Bill Gates alive, even after Bill left, even as the company grew dramatically in terms of employees, product lines, and financial success, and even through increasing legal and competitive challenges."
The true extent of Ballmer's hits and misses won't be evident until a few years from now, as a number of the new products and strategies he helped put in place, especially in the last year, are still in their fledgling stage. When it comes to Windows 8, Microsoft's decision to make its own Surface tablets, the company's acquisition of Nokia's mobile business -- it's still unclear how these will benefit or hinder Microsoft's customers, partners and competitors in the longer run, in spite of what the armchair quarterbacks are claiming now.