In his last appearance at a Microsoft shareholder meeting as CEO, Steve Ballmer said he's completely certain the company is in very good shape to succeed in the next decade under someone else's captainship.
Ballmer, who has gotten emotional in some public appearances since announcing his intention to retire in August, spoke with conviction but stayed composed throughout the meeting, which was webcast. "There is a tremendous amount of opportunity ahead for Microsoft," he said.
Ironically, Bill Gates, who is viewed as more cerebral, did choke up at the end of his prepared remarks when he addressed Ballmer's retirement and the ongoing search for his replacement.
Both he and Ballmer are committed to making sure that the next CEO "is the right person at the right time for this company" and that this person will guide Microsoft to success, Gates said, as his voice broke.
He didn't provide a timeline for when the replacement will be chosen, but said the search committee, of which he's part, has been meeting with external and internal candidates. "We're pleased with the progress," Gates said.
Gates, the company's co-founder and first CEO, was replaced by Ballmer in 2000. Gates is now the company's chairman.
Among the candidates rumored to be in the running are Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally, Satya Nadella, executive vice president of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise Division, Kevin Turner, the company's COO, who was CIO at Walmart and CEO of Sam's Club, and Stephen Elop, Nokia CEO and former division president at Microsoft, who is due to return to Redmond when Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's smartphone business is completed.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Ballmer, Microsoft director and search committee chief John Thompson and other company executives said Ballmer wasn't pushed out but that he decided to retire after becoming convinced only a new leader will be able to accelerate the pace of change in the company.
At the heart of that change is Microsoft's ongoing transformation from a provider of packaged software to a provider of hardware devices and cloud services, a strategy Ballmer reiterated is the right one during Tuesday's meeting.
The so-called "devices and services" emphasis will help Microsoft succeed both among consumers and among business customers as software moves to the cloud and mobile devices like tablets and smartphones take on more and more tasks previously handled by desktop and laptop PCs.
Concrete examples of this strategy include the Xbox gaming console, whose new Xbox One version will ship this week, the Office 365 cloud suite of collaboration and productivity apps, the Azure enterprise cloud infrastructure platform and the Surface tablets, Ballmer said.
Once the Nokia deal closes, Nokia smartphones running the Windows Phone OS will be further improved, boosting Microsoft's stable of devices, he said. Microsoft expects the deal, estimated at around $7.2 billion, to be finalized in the first calendar quarter of next year.
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