Steve Ballmer, who has served as Microsoft's chief executive since 2000, announced plans today to retire from his post at the Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant.
"There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time," Ballmer said in the statement. "My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our company’s transformation to a devices and services company. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction."
Ballmer expects to step down sometime within the next 12 months, once his successor has been named. Microsoft's board of directors has appointed a special committee to oversee the process of naming a new chief executive. The committee -- including co-founder Bill Gates -- will consider internal and external candidates for the position, Microsoft says.
Microsoft shares jumped nearly 9 percent to $35.27 in premarket trading.
A Detroit native, Ballmer, 57, joined Microsoft in 1980 and served as the tech company's first business manager. Before taking over for Gates as chief executive in 2000, Ballmer's roles included senior vice president of sales and support, senior vice president of systems software and vice president of marketing.
While Microsoft has arguably struggled for relevancy compared to competitors like Apple, under Ballmer Microsoft's annual revenue grew from $25 billion to $70 billion, and net income increased 215 percent to $23 billion. Much of those gains came from Microsoft's Windows and Office franchises. Microsoft businesses also include data centers, the Xbox gaming system and mobile devices.
In July, Ballmer announced significant senior leadership changes at Microsoft, as well as a new company strategy focusing on creating a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses – not just software. "We will strive for a single experience for everything in a person’s life that matters. One experience, one company, one set of learnings, one set of apps, and one personal library of entertainment, photos and information everywhere," Ballmer wrote.
Speculation is growing about who could eventually replace Ballmer as chief executive. Some news sites have suggested people like Steven Sinofsky, a former president of the Windows division who left the company last year, Mark Hurd, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive and chairman who is now a co-president at Oracle, and even Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.