Ballmer's Microsoft

by Volker Weber

How CEO Steve Ballmer is remaking the company that Bill Gates built

There isn't another company in the world as closely identified with its leader as Microsoft Corp. (MSFT ) has been with William H. Gates III. When the PC revolution erupted in the mid-1980s, it was Gates who emerged as chief pitchman for the clunky machines that suddenly appeared on many desktops. When tech stocks soared to unimaginable heights, Gates's multibillions landed him atop the lists of the world's wealthiest. And when Microsoft found itself in the crosshairs of federal antitrust regulators, Gates personified the abuse of market power. He was lord over a software behemoth that in 27 years has racked up nearly $50 billion in profits and that calls the tune for one of the world's most crucial industries. Gates is to our era what Rockefeller and Carnegie were to theirs.

But Gates no longer runs Microsoft. He gave up the chief executive role 2 1/2 years ago to his best friend and longtime management sidekick, Steven A. Ballmer. The burly, eats-nails-for-breakfast Detroit native thrives on the discipline of organizational management the way Gates thrills to the intricacies of technology. In 2000, Gates gave his pal free rein to restructure the way Microsoft manages finance, sales, product development, marketing, even strategic planning. And Ballmer took him up on it, big time.

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