April 26, 2017

Ballmer Takes Credit for Microsoft’s Move to the Cloud

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently told Bloomberg that current CEO Satya Nadella is taking Microsoft “to infinity and beyond.” In the interview with Emily Chang, Ballmer reflected on his relationship with Bill Gates and defended his role in the success of Microsoft saying, “I take great satisfaction in the things we accomplished throughout the time, not just when I became CEO.”

A Miserable Beginning

“When I became CEO we had a very miserable year,” said Ballmer. “Bill didn’t know how to work for anybody and I didn’t know how to manage Bill. I’m not sure I ever learned the latter.”

“I’d say my life changed a lot in 2008 when Bill actually left the company. In a sense I felt like, okay, we are not partners anymore, I have to take accountability. I think I did some of my very best work at the company after Bill left.”

Ballmer Takes Credit for Microsoft’s Move to the Cloud

Ballmer also made the case that his strategy to push Bing is also where Microsoft first moved into cloud services. “I pushed us into Bing and sustained that investment. That’s really where we got into the cloud.

“We started with what’s now Office 365 and Azure after Bill left,” he added. “We pushed into the hardware business with Surface, etc. Now Satya Nadella, my successor, is sort of taking things to infinity and beyond, if you well.”

Ballmer defended the mixed reviews some have given him. “Did I have a lot of success, yeah. Are there some things I wish I did differently, of course. I started a company that had about $2.5 million in revenue and 30 people and I left a company that had $22 billion in profit and I feel net-net, that’s pretty good success.”

Ballmer on Leaving Microsoft

He also talked about his relationship with Gates. “We’ve kind of drifted apart. He’s got his life and I sort of have mine. Microsoft was the thing that really bound us. We started off as friends and then really got enmeshed around Microsoft. Since I’ve gone, we’ve really have drifted a little bit.”

Ballmer said that leaving Microsoft was not a simple thing and he gave two reasons for it happening. First, there was a “difference in opinion on the strategic direction of the company. Number two, he and I always had what I call a brotherly relationship in the good parts and the bad parts, and I just think towards the end that it was a bit more difficult than not. You know, the stock price wasn’t going anywhere so the rest of the Board felt pressured, despite the fact that profits were going up. I think you had kind of a combustible situation.”

“At the end of the day I have the great comfort in knowing what I did and in feeling good about myself and everything else doesn’t really matter.”

Would Have Moved Into the Phone Business Faster

Ballmer also gave more details on strategic disagreements for the direction of Microsoft.

“I think there was a fundamental disagreement in how important it was to be in the hardware business. I had pushed Surface and the Board had been a little reluctant in supporting it. Then, things came to a climax around what to do in the phone business.”

“I would have moved into the hardware business faster and recognized that what we had in the PC where there was a separation in chips, systems and software wasn’t largely going to reproduce itself in the mobile world.”

“I wish I’d thought about the model of subsidizing phones through the operators,” said Ballmer. “People like to point to this quote where I said iPhones will never sell, it was because the price of $700 was too high. There was business model innovation by Apple, to get it essentially built into the monthly cell phone bill.”

“We should have been in the hardware business sooner in the phone case and we were still suffering from some of the effects of our Vista release of Windows, which sucked up a huge amount of resources for a much longer period of time than it should have, because we stumbled over it. When you have a lot of your engineers, sort of in a sense, being non-productive for awhile it really takes its toll.

I Wanted to Buy Nokia

“I certainly wanted to buy Nokia. The Board disagreed with that and later came back and said the company should go ahead even though I had decide to leave.

If executed in a certain way, I think it made a lot of sense. Our company chose to go in another direction and that’s the choice the company made.”

The Market Agrees with Satya

“I see the stock price flying sky high and all you can say is the market certainly agrees with the direction Satya has taken the company and I’m super excited about that.”

Watch the full interview:

Rich Ord
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Rich Ord is the CEO of iEntry, Inc. which publishes over 200 websites and email newsletters.