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Spinning Steve Ballmer's Departure from Microsoft

Steve Ballmer granted a series of interviews to The Wall Street Journal that resulted in an article over the weekend on how he decided to retire.

Ballmer's story, corroborated for the WSJ's Monica Langley by Microsoft board member John Thompson, is that he came to a realization on a London street in May that Microsoft might undergo its necessary transformations without him and all the old-guard Microsoft baggage he carries. 

It's an interesting and very readable story. It's also corporate board-level spin orchestrated by one of the cagiest and savviest companies in the world. Count me as highly skeptical that it approaches the truth of what happened.

That aside, I read this piece as Microsoft trying to communicate two things to the world.

One message is that nothing was forced upon Microsoft's board by outside investors, and that Ballmer's ouster, the executive shocker of the summer, was just a logical outcome of orderly processes at mature company.

The other message is that nobody should expect Microsoft to abandon the "devices and services" strategy that Ballmer put in place over the last few years. (See my column, "34 Billion Reasons Microsoft's Next CEO Will Stay the Course," from last week for more on this theme.)

Here's the key portion on devices and services from the WSJ's account:

Mr. Ballmer and his board have been in agreement: Microsoft, while maintaining its strong software business, must shake up its management structure and refocus on mobile devices and online services if it is to find future profit growth and reduce its dependence on the fading PC market.

The board's beef was speed. The directors "didn't push Steve to step down," says Mr. Thompson, a longtime technology executive who heads the board's CEO-search committee, "but we were pushing him damn hard to go faster."

Not only is devices and services what the board of directors wants for Microsoft's future, it's something they will want faster from the next CEO.

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Posted by Scott Bekker on November 18, 2013 at 12:02 PM


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