Just 18 months after he was named president of Microsoft Corp., Steve Ballmer on Thursday was given the additional title of CEO by his predecessor in both jobs, Bill Gates.
Ballmer, a longtime friend and associate of company co-founder and still-chairman Gates, began his tenure with Microsoft in 1980, just five years after it was founded. The relationship between Ballmer and Gates began back in the 1970s, when the two attended Harvard University together. Ballmer was Gates' best man when he married Melinda French in 1994.
After Gates hired Ballmer, the two reportedly had some rocky times. One anecdote had it that in the spring of 1985, as Microsoft's deadline to produce Windows slipped further and further behind, Gates called Ballmer into his office and threatened to fire him if Windows wasn't on the shelves by the end of the year (although few people believe Gates, who has a notoriously bad temper, was ever serious about firing Ballmer). Windows was ready by November.
The 43-year-old has held a number of positions within Microsoft. Prior to his role as president, Ballmer served as executive vice president of sales and support, where he drove the activities related to Microsoft's sales, support and marketing. Ballmer has also been responsible for leading Microsoft's channel efforts. He is a member of Microsoft's Business Leadership Team, which shares responsibility with Bill Gates and 12 other senior executives for broad strategic and business planning for the entire company.
Since Ballmer took over as president of the company, many in the industry have criticised his gruff management style when comparing him to Gates. A number of key executives, including chief technical officer Nathan Myhrvold and WebTV networks CEO and founder Steve Perlman, have left the company or taken extensive "sabbaticals" since Ballmer was put in charge of day-to-day operations.
"Gates had a fire in his belly for a technology division. Ballmer is Mr. Engulf and Devour. He wants to build the biggest mega-corporation known to man," one reseller told Sm@rt Reseller last year. "Ballmer will remake Microsoft in his own image."
Ballmer graduated from Harvard with a degree in applied math and economics, and he also attended Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. Before joining Microsoft he worked at Procter and Gamble as an assistant product manager.
The son of Swiss immigrants, Ballmer grew up in Detroit, where his father worked for Ford Motor.
Reuters contributed to this story.
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