After more than a third of a century at Microsoft, Steve Ballmer announced today he'll leave the software giant's board, effective immediately.
Ballmer, who remains the company's biggest shareholder -- he owns more shares than Bill Gates, who has pared his holdings in recent years -- said he's been reflecting on his role at Microsoft since he yielded the CEO job to Satya Nadella almost a half a year ago. Notably, he took on a new challenge during that time as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.
The transition from Ballmer to Nadella represents a shift in direction for Microsoft from a software company that dominated desktop computing to one that is fighting to find its place in a world where mobile is destined to become the leading computing platform and software will increasingly be sold as a subscription service. Nadella is leading multiple initiatives in that direction by championing Office 365, SharePoint Online and other products.
Hectic Days Ahead
"In the six months since leaving, I have become very busy," Ballmer wrote in an open letter on the Microsoft site. "I see a combination of the Clippers, civic contribution, teaching and study taking a lot of time. I have confidence in our approach of mobile-first, cloud-first, and in our primary innovation emphasis on platforms and productivity and the building of capability in devices and services as core business drivers ..."
Ballmer said he made the announcement now, knowing that August is when the company prepares for its next shareholders' meeting. He said he expects to hold his shares "for the foreseeable future." Microsoft shares closed at $45.33, a penny below the day's high and the highest closing price in nearly a month of trading. But his introduction as new owner of the Clippers obviously played a big part in his decision.
"Given my confidence and the multitude of new commitments I am taking on now, I think it would be impractical for me to continue to serve on the board, and it is best for me to move off," he wrote. "The fall will be hectic between teaching a new class and the start of the NBA season so my departure from the board is effective immediately."
In a reply that appeared directly below Ballmer's letter, Nadella said he understands and supports Ballmer's decision to leave the board.
"As you embark on your new journey, I am sure that you will bring the same boldness, passion and impact to your new endeavors that you brought to Microsoft, and we wish you incredible success," Nadella wrote. "I also look forward to partnering with you as a shareholder."
Ballmer joined Microsoft at the request of Gates shortly after Gates cofounded it with Paul Allen. Allen now owns another NBA team, the Portland Trailblazers, and the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL. He also holds a stake in the Seattle Sounders soccer team.
Emotional Sign Off
Ballmer concluded his letter with the kind of strong, emotional language that marked his numerous public appearances as CEO.
"I bleed Microsoft -- have for 34 years and I always will," Ballmer wrote. "I continue to love discussing the company’s future. I love trying new products and sending feedback. I love reading about what is going on at the company."
"Count on me to keep ideas and inputs flowing. The company will move to higher heights. I will be proud, and I will benefit through my share ownership. I promise to support and encourage boldness by management in my role as a shareholder in any way I can."
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