In his first public appearance since handing over Microsoft’s reins to incumbent CEO Satya Nadella, MBA dropout Steve Ballmer spoke to a packed house yesterday at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School.
Enthusiastic as ever, the exec chugged Diet Coke, bellowed cheerfully until he was red in the face and frequently bounded out of his seat for emphasis.
He looked unflinchingly back upon his 14 years as Microsoft’s leader, discussing what he might have done differently while propounding career advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Here are five of the most interesting things that he said:
1. He was a shy kid. It may seem unfathomable that the executive notorious for erupting into WWE-style hysterics during press events might describe himself his “painfully shy,” but Ballmer says that, until college, that was largely the case.
It wasn’t until he took on the role as team manager for Harvard’s football team that he learned to deal with unfriendly team members in order to pump up morale and coordinate a packed schedule. Now, Ballmer describes his leadership style as involving, energetic and passionate: “I am a salesman by nature. Don’t just come on the voyage with me -- believe!”
2. He doesn’t want to be “cool.” While Apple may have cornered the market on “cool,” Ballmer said -- throwing up air quotes -- he envisions the Microsoft brand as more democratic, namely a proponent of “affordable, empowering technology for all.”
In this vein, Ballmer said that the brands Microsoft could most hope to emulate are long-lasting and leading-edge educational institutions such as Oxford and Harvard.
3. He’ll catch the next wave. Despite admittedly missing the ball on mobile opportunities, for instance, Ballmer says that Microsoft is well-capitalized enough to continue with current initiatives and reposition itself for future waves of innovation.
“Take the world 10 years from now,” he said. “Do you really think we’re going to use devices that look like any of the devices that we have today?” Ballmer also regrets not having sooner married the hardware and software components of Microsoft’s business.
4. He questions Facebook’s WhatsApp acquisition. “Is it a fad? Well, probably not,” Ballmer said of WhatsApp, which Facebook purchased last month for a cool $19 billion. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that any asset boasting 450 million users could -- or should -- fetch a comparable price, he said.
Ballmer, who is no stranger to pricey acquisitions himself -- Microsoft’s own $7.2 billion purchase of Nokia will be finalized in coming weeks -- said he ultimately doesn’t know if the WhatsApp deal will prove to be successful or not.
5. He still loves Microsoft. Ballmer has three children with his wife, Connie, and considers Microsoft his fourth.
In the same way that a father rears his brood, Ballmer says, “If there’s something I don’t like about Microsoft, I should’ve changed it -- I could’ve changed it.” Ballmer, who is still a board member and owns four percent of the company, insists that it will bring him boundless pride to see Microsoft continue to flourish even after having parted ways.