The Boat That Steve Ballmer Missed

By N Mark Castro

That Steve Ballmer increased Microsoft’s annual revenue surged from $25 billion to $70 billion during his tenure as CEO is undoubtedly a major achievement. That Steve Ballmer was effective in steering the company against the US Anti-Trust lawsuit showed his skills in navigating through tough times. That he was highly energetic and inspirational demonstrated his leadership. But, despite the numbers, Steve Ballmer would be remembered more for the mistakes he’s made for the past 13 years rather than the numerical achievements.

Perhaps his keen focus on the company’s bottom line is what led him to make bad long-term product decisions that invited so many to criticize his business tech sense.

After all, in this fast-paced technological advancements, you are more remembered for the innovations you’ve initiated rather than the numbers you’ve produced. Microsoft could’ve dominated it but failed time and again because he just wouldn’t listen.

And to be pitted against the innovation of his times and other tech leaders, including the other Steve in Apple, he was simply playing catch-up with the opportunities that he missed.

What Went Wrong


1. Kin vs iPhone – People still remember the priceless reaction of Steve Ballmer as he laughed at the “world’s most expensive” mobile device, iPhone, and went on to say that he loved their strategy. Of course, there’s nothing wrong in promoting your own product but without carefully analyzing your competitor’s position, you might end up eating your own words. After all, who the hell remembers Kin, which sold only 503 pieces.

Ballmer: It’s sort of a funny question. Would I trade 96% of the market for 4% of the market? (Laughter.) I want to have products that appeal to everybody.

Then why did you produce the dying Windows-phone?

And this happened while he allowed Google to establish Android where it’s in 80% of all handsets because Steve Ballmer was so busy trying to kill Google’s search engine.

In the end, Microsoft failed at both.

Android dominates the field with Microsoft-phones and OS in a mere 3%, and there isn’t anyone I know that uses Bing. Googling seems to be such an automatic act it’s practically like shaving.

“Google it” or “Googling” have become acceptable words but I haven’t really heard anyone say: “Bing It On”.


2. Zune vs iPod – Comedians around the world had a field day when Zune was released. Aside from coming out 5 years late, it became obsolete when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone.

What’s ironic is that people still have an iPod — together with its succeeding innovations including the iTouch, but no one rushes out to buy Zune.

But it’s not like we’re at the end of the line of innovation that’s going to come in the way people listen to music, watch videos, etc. I’ll bet our ads will be less edgy. But my 85-year-old uncle probably will never own an iPod, and I hope we’ll get him to own a Zune. – Steve Ballmer


3. Courier, Slate, Surface vs iPad – if you have 3 incarnations of your products to compete with a single one, chances are it’s best to look for other revenue streams. Look, the Courier could’ve stolen the thunder from iPad and with the available updates and improvements, it could’ve gone head to head against it especially since it would’ve been ready by 2010.

Instead, Microsoft killed it and supported instead HP’s Slate, which Steve Jobs predicted as dead-on-arrival with its retail price of US$ 800. The strategy was also misplaced as they were too focused on catering to corporations instead of consumers at a time the iPad was already gaining headway into corporations without targeting them.

I think they forgot that corporations are nothing but organizations filled with consumers.

By the time they produced a credible tablet, even Ballmer was disappointed with the mishaps and sales performance of Windows, acknowledging the “too many times” they’ve built the same product.


But perhaps one of the biggest mistakes was missing the opportunity to make tons of money while accommodating Microsoft Office users when Steve Ballmer held back on making the Office available for iPad users. It didn’t make sense since they already made Microsoft Office for Mac that had been a perfect marriage for Microsoft Office users and Apple fanatics.

VISION – While Steve Jobs predicted that there would be more people using tablets as opposed to PCs, Steve Ballmer predicted otherwise, failing to see both the current trends, projected trends, and ongoing sales as more people go mobile.


At the time, Steve Jobs even include people using Apple’s MAC and categorically said that tablets would eventually take the lead. The video speaks for itself, however, by 2015, Steve Jobs’ prediction would happen based on global sales.


All else aside, the leadership quality of Steve Ballmer — though commendable — has polarized many. Let’s get this straight, Steve Jobs has his own personal demons as a leader but we’re focusing mainly on what was missed. Consider the following style:


PRESENTATIONS – One of the most exciting things in technology is the much-anticipated presentations done by CEOs: the excitement of launching new products and explaining it to avid fans and consumers alike, the presence of talented and creative engineers, the combination of marketing, sales, engineering, management.

Steve Jobs has perfected his Keynote presentations he’s practically a rock star onstage as evidenced in the video link.

However, who can ever forget how Steve Ballmer does his presos.

Currently, Steve Ballmer is the owner of Los Angeles Clippers, and it’s quite exciting to see how he will turn around the franchise from the racist Donald Sterling.

I sure hope he doesn’t miss trade opportunities while retaining the best talents.




About Asmartrock

N. Mark Castro is the Southeast Asia Director of JUMP DIGITAL Asia, which is an internationally-awarded and fully integrated digital marketing agency with 5 out of 10 offices in the ASEAN region. He is also the Secretary General of the Philippine Business Club Indonesia, managing and assisting the traffic of investments between the Philippines and Indonesia. He shuttles between Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Cambodia, and Australia. The views posted here are his own and do not in any way reflect the views of the companies he represents.

Posted on September 5, 2014, in General and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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