Microsoft announced Friday that chief executive Steve Ballmer will step down from the company within a year and that it is already looking for a successor.
Ballmer, who took over as chief executive from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in 2000, has overseen the company during a difficult time in its history and recently announced a major reorganization to help the company weather ongoing changes in the computing world. Under the new mandate, Microsoft is focusing more on hardware and services, rather than the software that had been the company’s bread and butter for decades.
Microsoft’s efforts to break into smartphones and tablets have so far failed to pick up much traction against competitors such as Apple, Samsung, or other manufacturers who make products using Google’s Android operating system. Meanwhile, Microsoft has faced waning demand for desktop PCs, which analysts say users aren’t upgrading as often. Last year, Microsoft introduced a new, touchscreen-based operating system, Windows 8, that aimed to tie its mobile and desktop devices more closely together, but it has had trouble getting consumers on board.
Shares of Microsoft jumped 6.8 percent in early morning trading on the news of Ballmer’s planned retirement, up to $34.58 per share.
In a statement on Microsoft’s Web site, Ballmer indicated that he his plans to retire were already in the works but that he moved them up to give the company a stable hand at the helm through the reorganization.
“There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” Ballmer said in a 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.”
The company’s board has formed a special committee to organize the search for a new chief executive; Ballmer will continue as chief executive until the company finds the right person to step in, Microsoft said.
In an internal e-mail to all company employees posted online, Ballmer said that he believes Microsoft is well-positioned to weather ongoing shifts in the tech world.
“Microsoft has all its best days ahead,” he wrote. “Know you are part of the best team in the industry and have the right technology assets. We cannot and will not miss a beat in these transitions.”
The company did not release any information on possible successor to Ballmer. Nor did it say whether the search would focus more on internal or external candidates. Microsoft observers in the past have noted some strong candidates to take over the top spot, including chief operating officer Kevin Turner and Julie Larson-Green, who had been co-chief of the Windows unit and was recently put in charge of hardware development.
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