Most notably, company co-founder Bill Gates got up to pay some respect to his successor as CEO, noting to investors that he and Ballmer were the only people to lead the company in its entire 38-year history. Gates, now Microsoft’s chairman, was visibly emotional as he thanked Ballmer for his leadership in his 33 years at the company and said that the outgoing executive was still very much a part of the company.
“We’ve got a commitment that Microsoft will succeed as a company that makes the world a better place,” Gates said, choking up as he concluded his remarks.
Ballmer’s successor has not been chosen, but whoever it is will face a major challenge for Microsoft as it shifts from being a pure software company to one that produces devices and cloud-based services. Gates said in his remarks that the next chief executive will have to grapple with technical issues, as well as with the daily challenges that come with running a multinational corporation.
“It’s a complex global business that the new CEO will have to lead, and they’ll have to drive across fundamental transitions to create new growth and attract and manage top talent,” Gates told shareholders.
He provided few details on how the executive search is going, except to say that the firm is looking at internal and external candidates to fill the position. He declined to provide a timeline for the decision.
Looking ahead, Gates said that Microsoft is in a good position to “transform a lot of things” about the way people communicate by way of its software and cloud services.
“In so many ways we have just scratched the surface of what can be done, and Microsoft has some amazing strengths that we bring to this,” Gates said.
Ballmer echoed that sentiment when he took the stage ahead of investor questions and returned to his familiar talking points about the company’s prospects as it turns to services and devices. He said new devices such as the Xbox One, which goes on sale Friday, show off how beneficial the marriage of those two products can be.
“It is a reflection of what’s possible when the company, our company, is unified under a common vision,” Ballmer said of the console.
Ballmer also spoke about the industry’s ongoing shift to mobile, which has been one of the main difficulties of his tenure at the firm. Analysts and investors have particularly criticized the firm’s slower-than-expected sales of smartphones based on the Windows operating system and sales of Microsoft’s Surface tablet.
But Ballmer said that Microsoft still has plenty of time to grow those markets, particularly in light of its proposed acquisition of the smartphone-maker Nokia — a deal that got a nod from the Finnish firm’s shareholders Tuesday. In doing so, he also reminded shareholders of one his accomplishments as CEO — Microsoft’s strong financial position.
“People don’t always remember that we built Microsoft one business at a time,” he said. “We have the financial assets that allow us to take the risks — the bold bets — to invest in new areas that will lead to transformation of how people work and live and economic success for Microsoft.”