Microsoft's Steve Ballmer Gives Final Press Interview as CEO, Talks Lawsuits & Xbox
December 11, 2013 5:20 PM
Ballmer was also key in pushing Microsoft into the enterprise
Microsoft's Steve Ballmer gave
his final interview
as the company's CEO before he retires, and it brought many triumphs and failures to light that maybe weren't so obvious before.
Ballmer gave the interview to tech journalist Mary Jo Foley for
where he talked about his role in key Microsoft events as CEO -- from bringing the Xbox to the living room, to taking care of countless antitrust lawsuits, to taking responsibility for the Longhorn fiasco.
Ballmer has done a lot of good for Microsoft during his 13-year tenure as CEO. When he was appointed chief executive in January 2000, he tackled the load of antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft and had most of them settled by about 2005. He even battled the U.S. government as well as 20 other countries and 206 additional class-action lawsuits in 40 states and the District of Columbia.
"Being the object of a lawsuit, effectively, or a complaint from your government is a very awkward, uncomfortable position to be in," said Ballmer. "It just has all downside. People assume if the government brought a complaint that there's really a problem, and your ability to say we're a good, proper, moral place is tough. It's actually tough, even though you feel that way about yourselves."
Aside from taking care of antitrust issues, Ballmer also pushed Microsoft from focusing strictly on the consumer market to taking on the enterprise, which proved to be a good bet since Microsoft now has a $20 billion enterprise business.
"It's really only the last five or six years that people say we're right for the enterprise," said Ballmer. "Now people say we're like, 'born for the enterprise.' But I would say as recently as about 2007 or 2008, we'd still have people who would say we weren't an enterprise supplier at all."
Ballmer further proved to take Microsoft in the right direction when giving the approval for Xbox. Ballmer was the driving force behind that approval and the push to bring Microsoft to the living room. Microsoft executives say he took months to decide whether to go into the gaming console business, but Ballmer took that leap into all-new territory and it ended up being a huge win as the Xbox evolved and now directly competes with Nintendo's Wii and Sony's PlayStation.
Right now, Microsoft's latest version of the Xbox --
-- is competing with Sony's newly released PlayStation 4.
There were also many other good points behind Ballmer's time as CEO, such as his social skills, which helped Microsoft make good business deals; his sales skills, which helped the company sell its products, and good acquisitions like FAST Transfer & Search (purchased in 2008 for $1.2 billion) and Navision a/s (bought in 2002 for $1.5 billion).
But Ballmer wasn't perfect. There were hiccups along the way as well, and one of the biggest ones -- which he admits is his biggest regret -- is
, which was the codename for the
Windows Vista operating system
"Oh, you know, I've actually had a chance to make a lot of mistakes, and probably because, you know, people all want to focus in on period A, period B, but I would say probably the thing I regret most is the, what shall I call it, the loopedy-loo that we did that was sort of Longhorn to Vista," said Ballmer in an August interview with Foley. "I would say that's probably the thing I regret most. And, you know, there are side effects of that when you tie up a big team to do something that doesn't prove out to be as valuable."
Ballmer had a few other missteps, such as bad acquisitions. Some of those include the $6 billion acquisition of the online ad firm aQuantive in 2007, where Microsoft took a $6.2 billion write-down five years later after its products and services failed, and the purchase of mobile services company Danger in 2008 (this led to the short-lived Microsoft Kin family of mobile phones).
Many would also argue that Ballmer missed when it came to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, lagging far behind Apple and Google when it came to Windows Phone releases and its mobile app development. Its Surface brand of products hasn’t exactly taken off, either. As far as browsers go, Internet Explorer was dethroned by Google's Chrome.
But despite Ballmer's failures, he'll tell you he did more right than wrong during his time as CEO.
"In the last five years, probably Apple has made more money than we have," said Ballmer. "But in the last 13 years, I bet we've made more money than almost anybody on the planet. And that, frankly, is a great source of pride to me."
"Well, we didn't have anyone in line that got shot waiting for our system." -- Nintendo of America Vice President Perrin Kaplan
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