In a surprise move, Microsoft’s Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has said he is to retire.
It comes just weeks after he announced a massive reorganisation to reshape the company into one focused on devices and services – rather like rival Apple.
Ballmer himself acknowledged his decision was abrupt. “There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” he wrote in a memo to employees.
“This is an emotional and difficult thing for me to do. I take this step in the best interests of the company I love.”
Ballmer will go within 12 months, once a special Microsoft committee has selected a new boss for the world’s largest software maker.
His stepping down will end a controversial 13-year reign by the man who replaced co-founder Bill Gates and who’s leadership was often questioned by Wall Street and Silicon Valley.
Microsoft’s stock price jumped on the announcement.
During his tenure Microsoft’s shares floundered and the PC-centric pioneer was eclipsed by Apple and Google in the shift toward mobile computing.
“Since he took over in 2000, it is fair to say he missed a number of transitions: mobile, tablets, cloud,” said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research. “Microsoft continues to live off traditional PC computing. Ballmer’s strength is traditional PC computing. He was a great guy for his era but times have changed and a new leadership is needed. It’s hard to say his tenure has been a success.”
Since he became CEO, Ballmer has tripled Microsoft’s revenues and more than doubled its already-large profits, but its share price has essentially stayed flat over the last decade
There are no obvious candidates to succeed Ballmer at the company that has only had two CEOs in its 38-year history. Many promising executives have left or were pushed out by Ballmer.
The committee to find a replacement is to be chaired by John Thompson, the board’s lead independent director, and includes Microsoft co-founder and Chairman Bill Gates, as well as board members Chuck Noski and Steve Luczo.
It will consider both external and internal candidates.