Featured Business Leader – Steve Ballmer

Featured Business Leader – Steve Ballmer


This week’s Featured Business Leader is a man who led one of the world’s largest and most widely recognised companies for over 10 years. Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft and now owner of NBA franchise the Los Angeles Clippers, has had an interesting rise to the top.

Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1956, Steve Ballmer grew up in an affluent surrounding suburb of Detroit with his parents – his father, like so many in the area, was employed by Ford Motor Company as a business manager. A natural with numbers, Steve attended a private prep school and graduated high school with a perfect score of 800 in the mathematics section of his SAT standardised testing.

This love of numbers and his outstanding results at high school in general led him to secure entry into Harvard University – where he graduated with honours from a Bachelor of Arts in applied mathematics and economics.  After school, he joined consumer goods company Proctor & Gamble as a product manager for two years, but he decided to pursue an MBA, and left the company and his position in order to study at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

In the process of studying with Stanford, Steve travelled to Seattle to take up a job opportunity with Microsoft. During the summer of work, Bill Gates convinced Steve Ballmer to withdraw from Harvard and join the 30-strong Microsoft team as a Business Manager in 1980.

His initial salary and contract also named him as a part owner of the company, and when Microsoft was incorporated in 1981, Steve Ballmer officially held 8% of the company. He held a variety of key positions within the growing company, including heading the key divisions of sales and support, operations and systems development. From February 1992, he held the position of Executive Vice President of Sales and Support.

Steve Ballmer was named CEO of Microsoft in January 2000, while Microsoft creator Bill Gates remained as Chairman of the Board and Chief Software Architect. Steve Ballmer was responsible for the financial and operational elements of Microsoft – a role he relished, as it gave him the opportunity to implement key changes at Microsoft.

He was instrumental in Microsoft shifting its focus to customer satisfaction, as well as overseeing Microsoft’s shift from its PC heritage to new technologies, including its diversification into gaming and cloud-based computing. Steve’s leadership was critical, for example, in the acquisition of Skype – a company worth a great deal to Microsoft. Also under his leadership, the annual revenue of Microsoft was over $70 billion and net income increased 215%.

It wasn’t all positive for Steve Ballmer in his time at the top of Microsoft, though – he was criticised, both internally and externally, for the lack of innovation in his product range, leaving Microsoft behind the competition in key markets such as tablets, smartphones and music players. By 2013, Steve Ballmer announced his decision to step down as CEO of Microsoft, and in February 2014 he officially ended his tenure.

This wasn’t the end of his involvement in business, though – after two previous failed attempts at owning an NBA team, keen sports fan Steve Ballmer purchased the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team for a reported figure of $2 billion, from controversial businessman Donald Sterling. He is now heavily involved in the management of the team, while also teaching classes at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

What do you think of Steve’s rise to power at Microsoft? Do you believe that the Microsoft brand has been damaged by their lack of response to rising technology needs in the so-called “Post-PC” world? Let us know what you think in the comments.

This article was written by Simone Ball on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. 

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