Steve Ballmer Planned Departure in 2010, Earned $768 Million by Quitting

Bloomberg reported Friday evening that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer began the process of departing Microsoft in 2010. The news paints the picture of a Steve Ballmer who was ready to step down, rather than being forced out by the company's board of directors.

Of course, I'd argue that the board has been derelict for not canning Mr. Ballmer years ago. I've written piece after piece arguing that Microsoft needs a product visionary at the helm, and that Mr. Ballmer needs to go.

But that would just be me saying "I told you so."

In any event, Bloomberg presented a behind-the-scenes look at Mr. Ballmer's departure, which was announced on Friday, that includes some interesting tidbits.

1.) As noted above, Mr. Ballmer planted the seeds of his departure in 2010 when he asked the board what a succession plan would look like. At that point, they began putting that process into place, and we're merely moving on to the next phase with Mr. Ballmer's retirement announcement.

2.) As noted in the title, the news of his quitting earned Mr. Ballmer a staggering fortune. Microsoft's stock jumped 7.29 percent (US$2.36) on the news that he was quitting. He owns some 4 percent of Microsoft (roughly 333 million shares), and Bloomberg noted that meant his personal net worth jumped by $786 million. By quitting. Wowza.

Oh, it looks like I get to use this image again. I best do it while I still can:

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

3.) Like Gil Amelio during his brief tenure at Apple, Mr. Ballmer has cut a lot of fat at Microsoft in recent years. That could make it easier for his successor to change directions.

4.) Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates did not ask Mr. Ballmer to stay when he told the board he was retiring. On the one hand, ouch. On the other hand, I've been wondering precisely how that would play out, so thanks, Bloomberg, for satisfying my curiosity.

5.) Bill Gates will be on the committee to find a replacement for Mr. Ballmer, but the search will be led by John Thompson. Bloomberg said that Mr. Thompson is Microsoft's lead independent director.

Honestly, I'm proud of Mr. Ballmer for stepping down. I've been saying recently that I think he loves Microsoft so much that he'd die for the company, but that he didn't love it enough to quit. It seems I was wrong, even if it should have happened earlier.

Actually, Bill Gates should be spanked for putting Mr. Ballmer in this position to begin with. Mr. Ballmer's accomplishments at Microsoft as a sales guy are phenomenal.

As Steve Jobs pointed out, though, you need a product person in charge of a product company. Not a sales person, not a bean counter, and not a marketing person. You need a product person.

Hopefully Microsoft has learned that lesson and will find the product visionary it needs to transition into a post-PC world.