When Steve Ballmer became the CEO of Microsoft in 2000, he became the closest thing tech had to a King and he had a big personality to prove it.
He was knon for his enthusiastic appearances at developers conferences and trade shows — all 6-foot-5 of him — running across the stage, jumping and screaming
Back then, the PC ruled in the consumer — and office markets — and Microsoft owned that screen with its Windows operating system and “Word.”
Kartik Hosanagar is a professor at the Wharton School of Business. He says, it’s worth remembering that Microsoft was so powerful that the government launched an anti-trust investigation. At issue: whether Microsoft was creating a monopoly by bundling Internet Explorer into its windows operating system. And icing out competitors like Netscape.
“In fact the whole anti-trust investigation was around whether we should break up Microsoft because it had become so powerful that nobody could take on Microsoft,” says Hosanagar.
Microsoft settled the case and of course, that turned out to be untrue. In large part, because Ballmer failed to see the radical changes that were to come.
“Steve Ballmer was not aggressive in trying to move Microsoft to other devices or non-windows operating systems,” says Michael Cusamano, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
While Microsoft was focusing on the desktop, Google was taking over the web and Apple remade itself into a mobile powerhouse. In 2007, when Apple introduced the iPhone Ballmer couldn’t have been cockier.
“Five hundred dollars? Fully subsidized with a plan, I said that is the most expensive phone in the world,” said Balmer in an interview in 2007, “And it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good email machine. “
Of course, the iPhone was a pretty good email machine. And more important, with its app store, it turned out to be a whole lot more.
“He’s not the technology guru, he really is a manager,” says Cusamano.
Cusamano says to be fair, if you look at Microsoft’s balance sheet, Ballmer did a good job as a business manager. In the last decade, Microsoft’s revenue has tripled and it rung up $18 billion dollars in sales last year.
But there’s a growing recognition that being a good businessman doesn’t make a good tech CEO. He says, in tech, things move so fast that you really need a visionary who can forsee — and shape — the future.
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