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Ballmer: buying Nokia is "very important" to Microsoft

Microsoft's former CEO Steve Ballmer came to Oxford today to give a talk, and he was mistaken for his predecessor Bill Gates.

Buying Nokia is "very important" to Microsoft, according to former CEO Steve Ballmer, as it'll help Microsoft prepare for the next wave of innovation. Speaking in conversation at Saïd Business School at Oxford University, Ballmer described buying Nokia as Microsoft's biggest strategic choice of recent years.

Ballmer also admitted Microsoft got a bit behind on the mobile and tablet side of things compared to Apple. He regrets "that we didn't put the hardware and software together soon enough".

Here's the talk in full. Despite the fact the host is an old friend of Ballmer's, he still mistook him for Bill Gates, and a couple of times too. Skip to 6:26 to see the first slip-up, then 1:13.30 for the second. Ballmer was able to laugh it off though.

And so what's Bill's -- sorry, Steve's advice to anyone starting out in the tech industry? Learn how to recruit. Pay attention to accounting (he repeated this three times). And understand price, most crucially.

The best advice he ever got was from his father. "If you're going to do a job, do a job. And if you're not going to do a job, don't do a job." Ballmer interpreted it as: "You've got to be as hardcore as anything if you're going to be successful."

Amazingly, he said he was "painfully shy" as a child. It was managing the college football team that got him used to telling people what to do. He described Microsoft as being like a child to him.

Adaptability, patience, and tenacity are the most important attributes for people working in start-ups, according to Ballmer. If Microsoft fails in one area -- and he openly admits things haven't always gone as well as he'd hoped in the last 10 years -- it's well financed enough that it can catch the next wave of innovation.

You're not allowed to dislike any aspect of your business either, Ballmer said. "If you can't embrace it, you're going to screw it up."

So what's the best thing about all that wealth and power? "I can play any golf course I want on the planet," Ballmer said. "You thought it would be something bigger and more cosmic? No."