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Was Steve Ballmer’s resignation more sudden than Microsoft claims?

Friday’s news of Steve Ballmer’s departure as Microsoft’s CEO came as a shock to all of us. In a press release, Microsoft made it seem like everything would be okay. And, we have to hand it to whoever wrote Microsoft’s memo that day, because it sure pulled the wool over our eyes in thinking that this was a well thought-out plan on behalf of Ballmer and the rest of the board. According to AllThingsD, however, it looks like Ballmer’s resignation was “neither planned nor as smooth as portrayed.” 

Sources close to Microsoft told AllThingsD that Ballmer’s leaving was more sudden than the company depicted. Microsoft’s press release stated that the CEO would leave within 12 months after helping find a replacement to help smooth the transition. However, there’s speculation that Ballmer actually didn’t plan to leave this soon. By examining the CEO’s own internal e-mail, which was published publicly on Friday, we start to see hints that indicate the departure is coming sooner than many, including Ballmer, originally planned.

“There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” Ballmer said in his e-mail. “My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our transformation to a devices and services company focused on empowering customers in the activities they value most.” Here, Ballmer mentions his original plan to leave in the middle of the transformation – not at the beginning. 

AllThingD’s sources said Ballmer’s date had been moved up by the CEO himself, and then by the nine-member board (including Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates), who all agreed it was best for his departure to come as soon as possible. With that in mind, is it possible that Ballmer’s 12-month window will actually be much shorter than Microsoft’s letting on? 

Another major issue in question is whether Ballmer’s zippy resignation was due in part to Gates himself, who, though has backed Ballmer many times in the past, may have had a change of heart. Though Ballmer and Gates worked closely for decades, Ballmer’s e-mail had no mention of Gates. Does this suggest a split between the two? It seems strange for Ballmer not to have any mention of Gates in this type of letter. As for Gates, he did mention Ballmer in a statement in Microsoft’s announcement, though it wasn’t in any sort of positive or friendly way. “As a member of the succession planning committee, I’ll work closely with the other members of the board to identify a great new CEO,” Gates said. “We’re fortunate to have Steve in his role until the new CEO assumes these duties.”

That’s a little harsh for someone Gates has been working with for several decades – since almost the beginning of Microsoft, actually. We do agree with AllThingsD that the way Ballmer’s and Microsoft’s e-mail and press release were written, respectively, suggest the departure came on a little sooner than originally planned. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.