Microsoft's Ballmer: If I had it to do all over again...

Steve Ballmer's last three years as CEO is the subject of Businessweek's cover story this week. Here's what I found interesting in the story.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is no more Mr. Monkeyboy.

That's the premise of the new January 12 Businessweek cover story about how Ballmer has put his stamp on Microsoft over the past few years.

To me, the most interesting bit came at the very end of the multi-page piece, where Ballmer conceded that he and Chairman Bill Gates might have done better to spend less time on vision and more time on the actual product development process. From the story:

"During a reflective moment, Ballmer says that if he had it to do all over again, he would dedicate more time to watching over the development process of products rather than just issuing a vision to his employees. “I’d say probably Bill and I were spending a lot more of our energy on where to go,” he says. 'And we should balance our energy better on how to make sure we’re going to get where we want to go.'”

I think many current (and former) Softies, not to mention many customers and partners, would most likely concur with that statement.

A couple of other lines that stood out to this Microsoft watcher:

  • “People might have missed this fact, but I got a new job three and a half years ago,” Ballmer says, referring to Gates’s retirement from day-to-day activities at Microsoft. (Not everyone missed that watershed moment. But Microsoft execs did their best at the time to try to make sure that everyone did.)
  • "Ballmer has replaced almost every major division head at Microsoft and overseen a dramatic shift away from the company’s PC-first heritage. He ordered the product groups to work together instead of operating as talent-hoarding fiefdoms." (I'd give former Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie some of the credit for working to break down silos. Ozzie is yet another of those who is gone, and Ballmer has said he doesn't see a need -- at least for now -- for someone in the Chief Software Architect role.)
  • "Microsoft grew up doing massive launches every three to five years for its blockbuster products. Now its rhythms have started to change." (One place they still haven't changed is in the Windows division, however. Windows is still on an every 2.5 to 3 year release cycle, as is the accompanying Windows Live Essentials bundle of add-on services.)
  • "Lady Gaga, he likes. 'Gnarls Barkley, I hate,' he says." We also know Ballmer has a room where he can privately break bread in some unnamed Bellevue, Wash. steakhouse. (El Gaucho? John Howie's? Daniel's? Bing it, baby!)

There's no mention in the Businessweek story as to when Ballmer plans to retire -- something Ballmer said back in 2008 that he planned to do around 2018 -- or of the constant nagging by Wall Street for him to do so because of the stagnant stock price. Maybe that's the point: The Redmond management is hoping to put to rest the impression that Ballmer is teetering on the brink of be ousted or leaving any time soon.

One more time: Bill Gates is gone and he's not coming back.

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