Ballmer: 'Maybe I'm an emblem of an old era'

Microsoft's CEO suggests in interview that perhaps time has passed him by and the company needs a fresh face to accelerate change.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer: "I have to move on." Getty Images
As he prepares to head for the exits one last time as CEO, Steve Ballmer is letting down the protective wall that he's guarded in public for so long. In a remarkably personal interview with The Wall Street Journal, Ballmer allowed that perhaps time has passed him by.

"Maybe I'm an emblem of an old era, and I have to move on," an emotional Ballmer acknowledged in what was described as a series of interviews published Friday. "As much as I love everything about what I'm doing," he said, "the best way for Microsoft to enter a new era is a new leader who will accelerate change."

In August, Ballmer surprised the technology world and his company by announcing plans to step down sometime within the next 12 months. The article presents of a picture of an impatient board of directors pushing Ballmer to execute a reorganization plan designed to break down competitive corporate silos. At a certain point, Ballmer told the WSJ, he began to question whether he could meet the board's timetable.

"No matter how fast I want to change, there will be some hesitation from all constituents -- employees, directors, investors, partners, vendors, customers, you name it -- to believe I'm serious about it, maybe even myself," he said.

During a trip to London in May, Ballmer said he began to envision a Microsoft without him at the helm, a change he thought might accelerate sought-after change at the company.

"At the end of the day, we need to break a pattern," he said. "Face it: I'm a pattern."

Thus began a series of conversations with underlings and selected directors, informing them of his thinking. By the time the board met in June in Bellevue, Wash., Ballmer told the WSJ that he broke the news officially. "While I would like to stay here a few more years, it doesn't make sense for me to start the transformation and for someone else to come in during the middle," he said.

Microsoft's board voted officially on August 21 to accept Ballmer's retirement.
 

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