Steve Ballmer: CEO Can Not Delegate Business Culture | Summary and Q&A

July 27, 2009
Stanford Graduate School of Business
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Steve Ballmer: CEO Can Not Delegate Business Culture

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In this video, Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, discusses the state of the company, its goals, and the challenges it faces. He talks about how Microsoft is a software company that aims to transform society through technology. He also highlights the importance of innovation, growth, and maintaining a strong company culture. He shares insights on leadership, managing people, and the challenges he faces as the CEO.

Questions & Answers

Q: Can you explain how Microsoft sees itself and its goals?

Microsoft sees itself as a software company that aims to positively transform society through technology. They believe in the power of software to bring about positive changes. They have identified 70 technologies that they believe will change the world in the next few years. Microsoft's core competence is writing software, and they focus on applying it to various areas such as television, reading, and speech recognition.

Q: How does Microsoft view the opportunities and challenges it currently faces?

Microsoft sees plenty of opportunities for growth in various business sectors. They have expanded beyond being just a PC desktop company and are now focused on enterprise software, consumer electronics, and internet information and advertising. They view their current position as a jumping-off point for future growth and are excited about the innovations and competition in these areas.

Q: How does Microsoft compete in markets where Windows is not the primary platform?

Microsoft views their core platform as the technology base they provide. For example, even though Xbox is not primarily based on Windows, they still use the same graphics system that is used for designing automobiles. They believe that once they have invested in a technology, they should sell it to as many people as possible, regardless of the platform. This approach allows them to diversify their business and reach different markets.

Q: How do you operate with three presidents while still staying involved in the details?

As the CEO, Steve Ballmer is involved in various aspects of the business, but he doesn't micromanage every detail. He spends a significant amount of time externally representing the company and internally coaching and mentoring employees. He focuses on big growth opportunities and strategic challenges, leaving the day-to-day operations to his team. He strikes a balance between being hands-on and delegating tasks, depending on the specific areas that require his attention.

Q: What are the most important aspects of leadership and managing people?

According to Steve Ballmer, leaders should insist on accountability while also encouraging people to stretch themselves. They need to find the right balance between setting goals and holding people accountable, all while fostering a culture of collaboration and dedication to making others better. Leaders should simplify complex situations and strike the right balance between being realistic and optimistic. It's crucial for leaders to understand their role in shaping the company culture and reinforcing the values that drive the organization.

Q: How does Microsoft keep the company innovative and exciting with a large employee base?

Microsoft believes that the key to innovation is having the best and brightest people. They strive to recruit top talent, and they have had great success in attracting talented individuals. They emphasize the compelling proposition of working on cutting-edge technologies and being part of broad innovation. They acknowledge the competition in the consumer products space and are determined to stay dynamic and innovative to earn their place in the market.

Q: How does Microsoft manage the transition from Bill Gates to the next generation of leaders?

The transition from Bill Gates to the next generation of leaders at Microsoft has been gradual. Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates had discussions about leadership roles years before the actual transition took place. They implemented a leadership structure to prepare for the transition and ensure a smooth transfer of responsibilities. Bill Gates transitioned from being a leader to a coach, and efforts were made to moderate his external engagement. The focus was on maintaining a strong partnership and instilling a culture of learning and growth among the new leaders.

Q: What were the factors that led you to drop out of Stanford and join Microsoft?

Steve Ballmer made the decision to join Microsoft after considering various job opportunities and companies. He was attracted to the company because of its reputation as a world leader in an emerging field. He admired the intelligence and intensity of the people at Microsoft, particularly co-founder Bill Gates. The opportunity to be part of a company that aimed to put a computer on every desk and in every home resonated with him and influenced his decision to join.

Q: What trade-offs have you had to make throughout your career and what is your greatest personal challenge now?

The greatest trade-off Steve Ballmer faced throughout his career is managing his time. As the CEO of Microsoft, he has a busy schedule full of external engagements, internal meetings, and personal commitments. Balancing work and family time is his greatest personal challenge. He values spending time with his family but also recognizes the demands of his role. He strives to find a balance and make the most of the time he has available.

Q: How has the transition from Bill Gates to the next generation of leaders been managed and what challenges have you faced?

The transition from Bill Gates to the next generation of leaders at Microsoft has been a gradual process that began several years before it was publicly announced. The focus has been on ensuring a smooth transfer of responsibilities and maintaining a strong leadership structure. Challenges have included moderating Bill Gates' external engagement, transitioning his primary partnerships to other leaders, and ensuring that new leaders have the opportunity to learn and grow in their roles.

Q: How important is mentorship and where did you seek mentorship throughout your career?

Steve Ballmer attributes much of his mentorship to his partnership with Bill Gates. As a co-founder and leader of Microsoft, Bill Gates played a significant role in educating and mentoring Ballmer. Apart from that, Ballmer learned from studying other companies, engaging with business leaders, and seeking insights and advice from experts in various fields. He believes that learning from others and being open to guidance is essential for personal and professional growth.


In this video, Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, discusses the company's goals, challenges, and approach to innovation. He emphasizes the importance of software in transforming society and talks about the opportunities for growth in different business sectors. He highlights the role of leadership in balancing accountability and stretching people's capabilities. He also shares insights on managing time and maintaining a strong company culture. The transition from Bill Gates to the next generation of leaders is managed through careful planning and fostering a culture of learning and growth. Mentorship and learning from others are crucial for personal and professional development. Overall, Microsoft aims to remain dynamic and innovative in the ever-changing technology landscape.

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