You are what they think you are: Ballmer’s legacy is a lesson in image management

you are what they think ballmers legacy is a lesson in image management steve ballmer steps down microsoft ceo

After more than a decade at the helm of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer announced on Friday that he will step down as CEO within a year. There are a lot of lessons to take away from Ballmer’s tenure at what was once the largest company in the world, but one of the biggest is the importance of marketing, and making sure to manage your own image. Ballmer was one of the most successful CEOs in technology over the last decade, but his image doesn’t reflect that; we see him for his failures and not his successes. Let me explain, and talk a little more about what Microsoft may look like after Ballmer.

Steve Ballmer’s track record

Ballmer had four problems he needed to deal with as CEO, but only two were on the table when he grabbed the reins from Bill Gates in 2000: billions of dollars in potential fines stemming from the Department of Justice’s ongoing antitrust lawsuit, and an organization that was more focused on infighting that competing. Later, he would also need to tackle two more: the rise of cloud computing and mobile devices.

If you’re an individual, you have to own how people see you; if you’re a CEO, you have to own how people see the company.

Of these four challenges, he succeeded at half. Ballmer managed to steer Microsoft out of its litigation with the company intact, and got on top of the cloud movement quickly with Azure and SkyDrive, both of which were successful. However, he waited too long to address the organizational infighting, which he only got to a few months ago, and clearly missed the mark on mobile devices. Of course, other than Apple, so did every other PC company on the planet. Blackberry and Palm, two companies solely focused on that business, also managed to miss, suggesting that was a lot harder than it looked from the outside.

That’s not a bad track record, but Ballmer’s reputation doesn’t reflect it. Had he not crippled corporate marketing, Ballmer’s successes would have gotten more ink, and Microsoft’s shares would have likely traded far higher. Recall that much of the reason Microsoft’s share value dropped was because he moved to buy Yahoo. Even though Microsoft didn’t buy the firm, the company’s shares never really recovered. That was clearly an image problem, because the Microsoft that existed before the Yahoo attempt was the same company that existed after, only the way we valued the firm changed.

Apple further pounded on Microsoft’s image during the Vista years, and the Zune was underfunded, but still very visible. But Microsoft remained one of the most profitable companies in the world, and Bill Gates the richest man, virtually throughout Ballmer’s tenure.

What will the ‘new’ Microsoft look like?

Qi Lu Microsoft VPThere are only a handful of people who could run Microsoft. I think the best candidate is Qi Lu, currently Executive VP of Applications and Services. While there are three others in the running, unless something happens to Lu or Microsoft goes external, I think he’ll get the nod. Outside the firm, there are two likely candidates: Pat Gelsinger, Intel’s ex-visionary and a trained CEO, and Bill Veghte, ex-Microsoft and recently promoted in HP. Of the two, Gelsinger would be the better choice.

Any of these folks, if chosen, would likely double down on cloud subscription services and back off of device efforts like Surface. Their goal would be to make Microsoft more like Google on steroids, and less like Apple. This would be consistent both with their respective skill sets, and the direction of the market. For instance, in gaming, think more like OnLive and less like Sony.

Own your image

If you look over at Apple, Tim Cook is making the same mistake that Ballmer did. He is losing control of Apple’s image, and Apple is drifting down even faster than Microsoft did as a result. If you’re an individual, you have to own how people see you; if you’re a CEO, you have to own how people see the company.

This is the one thing that CEOs like Cook and Ballmer simply don’t understand about Steve Jobs’ success. Jobs knew that image is everything, and that perception is reality. Jobs made us see Apple’s products as magical, and Microsoft’s as crap. Whoever takes over for Ballmer needs a little bit of Jobs’ magic if they want to be more successful than Steve was.

In the end, the new Microsoft will likely specialize in cloud services, with products like Office365 and SkyDrive, and less in operating systems like Windows, and hardware like the traditional Xbox. It’ll be an interesting ride. Oh, one final thing, when the market makes the next move, if Microsoft doesn’t lead it, the next CEO will likely go the way Ballmer did. The new CEO needs to own Microsoft’s image and make sure the company leads the next big technology wave. We’ll see.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Home Theater

Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is the epic sound revolution you didn’t know you needed

After Sony’s utterly bizarre press conference, I almost missed what was perhaps the most impactful sonic experience at the show. Luckily, I went back to Sony’s booth on the last day of the show, only to have my mind blown.
Mobile

Apple’s iPad lineup is confusing. We break it all down for you

Trying to decide which iPad is right for you is a chore. What generation is the latest iPad? Which ones have been updated and which ones are collecting dust? Check out our iPad guide and we’ll break it down.
Emerging Tech

Did you see that?! Tour the blockbuster booths of CES 2019

You may not be able to attend CES in Las Vegas, but we’re bringing all of the best booths to you. From LG’s wall of OLED TVs to a full-scale flying taxi, these are spectacles we won’t forget.
Social Media

Instagram now lets you post to multiple accounts in one tap

Instagram for iPhone now lets you post to multiple accounts at the same time. It's not the regram feature that many users have been asking for, but it could prove useful for some users who manage more than one profile.
Computing

Problems with installing or updating Windows 10? Here's how to fix them

Upgrading to the newest version of Windows 10 is usually a breeze, but sometimes you run into issues. Never fear though, our guide will help you isolate the issue at hand and solve it in a timely manner.
Computing

Still miss Windows 7? Here's how to make Windows 10 look more like it

There's no simple way of switching on a Windows 7 mode in Windows 10. Instead, you can install third-party software, manually tweak settings, and edit the registry. We provide instructions for using these tweaks and tools.
Computing

Lost your router? Here's how to find its IP address to help track it down

Changing the login information for your router isn't always easy, that's why so many have that little card on the back. But in order to use it, you need to know where to go. Here's how to find the IP address of your router.
Computing

Our favorite Windows apps will help you get the most out of your new PC

Not sure what apps you should be downloading for your newfangled Windows device? Here are the best Windows apps, whether you need something to speed up your machine or access your Netflix queue. Check out our categories and favorite picks.
Computing

Is it worth spending more for the Surface Pro, or is the Surface Go good enough?

The Surface Go versus Surface Pro -- which is better? While the higher price tag of one might make you think it's an easy choice, a deeper dive into what each offers makes it a closer race than you might assume.
Computing

Pinning websites to your taskbar is as easy as following these quick steps

Would you like to know how to pin a website to the taskbar in Windows 10 in order to use browser links like apps? Whichever browser you're using, it's easier than you might think. Here's how to get it done.
Computing

Stop your PC's vow of silence with these tips on how to fix audio problems

Sound problems got you down? Don't worry, with a few tweaks and tricks we'll get your sound card functioning as it should, and you listening to your favorite tunes and in-game audio in no time.
Computing

Yes, Android apps can run on your PC, and it's easier than you think

Wish you knew how to run Android apps in Windows? It's easier than you might think and there are a number of different ways to do it. In this guide, we break down the steps so you can follow along with ease.
Computing

Don't spend hundreds on Pro Tools or Logic. Try one of these free alternatives

Believe it or not, Pro Tools isn't the only digital audio workstation worth your time. Check out our picks for the best free recording software, whether you're looking for a lightweight app or a full-blown audio workstation.
Computing

How to share an external hard drive between Mac and Windows

Compatibility issues between Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS may have diminished sharply over the years, but that doesn't mean they've completely disappeared. Here's how to make an external drive work between both operating systems.