Help Wanted: Microsoft Seeks CEO as Ballmer Announces Retirement Plan

8/23/13Follow @bromano

By this time next year, Microsoft will be led by someone other than Steve Ballmer. The longtime chief executive this morning announced his decision to retire after 33 years with the Redmond software giant.

Ballmer, 57, has led the company since 2000, when he took over the CEO title from co-founder and chairman Bill Gates. In a press release and memo to employees (see below) Ballmer committed to leave the company to which he has devoted his professional life, and from which he has gained immense personal wealth, “within the next 12 months, after a successor is chosen.”

Ballmer has been a controversial figure as CEO, enduring ongoing calls for his ouster. Detractors point to the company’s stock price, which has remained in a relatively narrow band since he took the helm more than 13 years ago. Shares today were up about 6.5 percent to $34.51 in mid-morning trading on the Nasdaq.

“There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” Ballmer says in the memo to employees. “My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our transformation to a devices and services company focused on empowering customers in the activities they value most. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction.”

Gates, lead independent director John Thompson, audit committee chairman Chuck Noski, and compensation committee chairman Steve Luczo are forming a special committee to direct the process of finding Ballmer’s replacement. Candidates from both inside and outside the company will be considered. Executive recruiter Heidrick & Struggles International is working with the committee.

Here’s the full text of Ballmer’s memo to employees, titled Moving forward:

I am writing to let you know that I will retire as CEO of Microsoft within the next 12 months, after a successor is chosen. There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time. My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our transformation to a devices and services company focused on empowering customers in the activities they value most. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction. You can read the press release on Microsoft News Center.

This is a time of important transformation for Microsoft. Our new Senior Leadership team is amazing. The strategy we have generated is first class. Our new organization, which is centered on functions and engineering areas, is right for the opportunities and challenges ahead.

Microsoft is an amazing place. I love this company. I love the way we helped invent and popularize computing and the PC. I love the bigness and boldness of our bets. I love our people and their talent and our willingness to accept and embrace their range of capabilities, including their quirks. I love the way we embrace and work with other companies to change the world and succeed together. I love the breadth and diversity of our customers, from consumer to enterprise, across industries, countries, and people of all backgrounds and age groups.

I am proud of what we have achieved. We have grown from $7.5 million to nearly $78 billion since I joined Microsoft, and we have grown from employing just over 30 people to almost 100,000. I feel good about playing a role in that success and having committed 100 percent emotionally all the way. We have more than 1 billion users and earn a great profit for our shareholders. We have delivered more profit and cash return to shareholders than virtually any other company in history.

I am excited by our mission of empowering the world and believe in our future success. I cherish my Microsoft ownership, and look forward to continuing as one of Microsoft’s largest owners.

This is an emotional and difficult thing for me to do. I take this step in the best interests of the company I love; it is the thing outside of my family and closest friends that matters to me most.

Microsoft has all its best days ahead. Know you are part of the best team in the industry and have the right technology assets. We cannot and will not miss a beat in these transitions. I am focused and driving hard and know I can count on all of you to do the same. Let’s do ourselves proud.

Steve

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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  • Johnny T Stine

    I, Johnny Stine, would like to selected as the next CEO of Microsoft. Therapeutic antibodies would be a natural direction for a company like Microsoft given the hoards of digital data that we generate. I will be happy to take a pay-cut from my current role as CEO of North Coast Biologics in order to lead this transformation. :-)