Crazy and Passionate: What Microsoft Loses With Steve Ballmer

PHOTO: Steve Ballmer Leaving Microsoft
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The stock market and Microsoft's lead investors might be happy about Steve Ballmer's retirement as CEO but I'm sad.

Ballmer's legacy will be debated for years to come, though his recent missteps are well-documented (see here and here).

Or more to the point: "It's clearly not a very pretty legacy, mostly due to larger external trends that were impossible to resist, and stubborn management by Ballmer that tried too hard to resist them," AllThingD's Ina Fried said.

While he led the company into the post-PC and post-Bill Gates era, he failed to maintain Microsoft's rapid growth as a leading software computer company. That makes me sad, but it's not why I am sad today.

I'm sad because watching Ballmer introduce new products or address an audience has been one of the best parts of being a technology journalist. And that's not likely to happen again.

Flailing arms, screams that resemble a lion's roar, panting and, yes, large sweat marks are all markers of a great Ballmer speech. It's an experience, one I've gone out of my way many times to see.

Once I ran across the Anaheim Convention Center just to catch a surprise appearance, which I was hoping would be similar to this:

Or this:

Yes, they are hilarious moments but it's more than that.

"I take this step in the best interests of the company I love; it is the thing outside of my family and closest friends that matters to me most," Ballmer wrote in his retirement letter to the company today.

He uses the word love in the letter seven times. Match that with that famous speech above, the part where he belts "I LOVE THIS COMPANY!" and you can see that those are not just words on paper.

I spend much of my time meeting with technology executives and watching them unveil the latest products. When I watch many, I wonder if they truly care about the products they are holding in their hands or if they are simply just trying to make it through the words on the teleprompter.

Flailing arms, screams that resemble a lion's roar, large sweat marks are all markers of a great Ballmer speech.

As Microsoft launches into a search for a successor, the technology community now ponders who will take over the reins and what sort of leader the company needs.

"I believe the biggest thing the next Microsoft CEO has to have is a very well articulated and strategized vision of the future," Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, told me this morning.

Others say the replacement must come from a technology background and have a clear vision and strategy, ones that would allow Microsoft to finally crack the consumer market and anticipate what is coming next. Don't forget: Ballmer himself thought there was "no chance" the iPhone was going to gain significant marketshare back in 2007.

All those things are certainly important attributes for the next CEO of Microsoft to possess, but let's not diminish the importance of the passion, the energy and the love that they bring to the stage.

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