Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer seems to be ending his long career at the Windows giant on a mixed note.
Microsoft said on Friday that Ballmer will retire within the next year, prompting analyst and industry reaction.
Yes, Ballmer's 12-plus years at the company included leadership roles in web browsers, Xbox and Dynamics. He was "hugely successful" in his first decade, said Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst of J. Gold Associates. But then, as CEO, Ballmer led Microsoft down a path that did not capitalize well on tablets or mobile software, and that forced Windows 8 down users' throats, Gold said.
"Lately, he has lost touch with his marketplace and customer base," Gold said in an Aug. 23 client memo. "The infighting and turnover of execs has been dramatic. The seeming lack of vision he exhibited was destructive. His insistence that Microsoft was on the right course even though customers were complaining was catastrophic."
For example, Gold cited Ballmer's refusal to put the infamous Windows "Start" button back into Windows 8. This "dramatically decreased the desirability of the OS and even accelerated the downswing in PC sales. This was ultimately an arrogant position."
In addition, Microsoft's "near total failure" in mobile devices proved another disaster, Gold said.
Now it's time for Microsoft to start fresh.
Ballmer, said Gold, "lost his focus," highlighting that it's "time for new leadership and vision." However, problems will mount if Ballmer "gets to pick a clone of himself with the same direction and strategy," Gold said.
"What they need is a leader with a new direction – a visionary who can bring back innovation and provide products people are willing to spend money on," said Gold. "Unless such a leader is found, Microsoft is in for a continued, albeit slow, decline."
Industry analyst Jeff Kagan agreed.
"Microsoft has been stuck during the last several years and only a new CEO with a new vision can rescue the company and put it back on a solid growth track," he said.
The reactions come as Ballmer issued a memo on Friday about his decision to retire.
"There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time," he said, adding that stepping down "is an emotional and difficult thing for me to do. I take this step in the best interests of the company I love; it is the thing outside of my family and closest friends that matters to me most."
The news also arrives a little more than a month after Ballmer instituted Microsoft's seventh reorganization in 11 years. He's aiming to make the company a devices and services behemoth, moving away from a software-only legacy.
"We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction," Ballmer said in his Aug. 23 email.
To that point, Microsoft has named a special committee to oversee the search for Ballmer's replacement. The committee includes Microsoft founder and board chairman Bill Gates. Microsoft also has retained Heidrick & Struggles International Inc., an executive recruiting firm, to help find the company's next CEO. Internal and external candidates will be considered, Microsoft said.