By this point, everybody who's even within shouting distance of a device connected to the Internet has heard the news: Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, is on his way out, retiring somewhere in the next twelve months and stepping aside to allow someone else to run the firm. And, rumor has it, this was not his choice, but a decision enforced upon the firm by the Microsoft Board.
You know, as much as I've disagreed with some of the decisions that've come out of the company in the last five years or so, I can't help but feel a twinge of sadness for how this ended. Ballmer, by all accounts, is a nice guy. I say that not as someone who's ever had to deal with him in person, but based on hearsay reports and two incidents where I've been in his general proximity, one of which was absolutely hilarious. Truth: when the cookie guard in that story told him that, he didn't, as some might imagine, immediately pull rank and start yelling "Do you know who I am?!?" In fact, he looked entirely like he was going to put the cookies back when another staff member rushed up, whispered in the first's ear, and when the first one apologized profusely, he just grinned--not meanly, but seemingly in the humor of the situation--and took a bite. He didn't have to play it so nicely, but how you treat the "little people" that touch on your life is a great indicator of the kind of person you are, deep down.
And count me a Ballmer-apologist, perhaps, but I have to wonder how much of his decision-making was made on faulty analysis and data from his underlings. Some of that is his own problem--a CEO should always be looking for ways to independently verify the information his people are reporting to him, and people who tell him only what he wants to hear should be immediately fired--but I genuinely think he was a guy just trying to do the best he could.
And maybe, in truth, that was never really enough.
Regardless, should the man suddenly appear at my doorstep, I would invite him in for dinner, offer him a beer, and talk about our kids' football teams. (They play in the same pre-high school football league.) He may not have been the great leader that Microsoft needed in the post-Gates years, but I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft has to go a few iterations before they find that leader, if they ever can. A lot has to happen exactly right for them to find that person, and unless Bill has suddenly decided he's ready to take up the mantle again, it's something of a long shot.
Good luck, Microsoft.