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Ballmer’s exit necessary, an outsider as successor is vital

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft Corp. CEO


In this little corner of Trading Shots, where we've taken shots at CEOs who needed to lose their jobs, we've had quite the track record in the last year.

We suggested, and then witnessed, the departures of Andrew Mason from Groupon, Mark Pincus from Zynga, and Ron Johnson from J.C. Penney (Although we suggested Mr. Johnson would stay because the board would give him more time to oversee his strategy).

And now, Steven Ballmer, another target of our ire, joins the list, as Microsoft said Friday he'd retire within the year.

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Shares jumped on the news, because we were not alone in our disappointment in Mr. Ballmer. Despite a near-monopoly on PC software and a business that gushed cash, Microsoft shares have been perpetual laggards.

The reason, as we noted in July when Microsoft reported earnings kindly described as lackluster, is that "people like to invest in companies who actually do things right. Outside of the Xbox, Microsoft hasn't done much by that description in decades."

The reporting on Mr. Ballmer's departure Friday notes he leaves with no obvious replacement suggesting a failure in succession planning.

True enough, but this is good news for investors, as it suggests the company might find someone from outside the ranks to step into the top job. This is badly needed.

Disagree? I urge you (again) to read a March, 2011, Fortune magazine article about Ballmer's Microsoft. I used the article to support my December argument, "Why Microsoft must end the Ballmer regime in 2013."

The article details how Microsoft could have been first in the tablet wars, beating the iPad, but killed the product because it didn't use the legacy Windows operating system. Fortune quoted former employees and analysts as saying Ballmer's "deep pride in Microsoft leads him to dismiss rivals' good ideas … and to suffocate anything … that might detract from Windows."

Microsoft needs a CEO who hasn't spent one moment inside that culture, one who , ironically, has not one bit of responsibility for creating and building Windows and Microsoft into the successes they became.

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Because those successes are now in the rear-view mirror, along with Ballmer. And Microsoft's road ahead must be vastly different.

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About the Author
Business and investing reporter and columnist

A business journalist since 1994, David Milstead began writing for The Globe and Mail in 2009. During eight years at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colo., he individually or jointly won nine national awards from SABEW, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He has also worked at the Wall Street Journal. More


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