Ballmer to Retire as Microsoft CEO

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In a surprise announcement this morning, Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) revealed that CEO Steve Ballmer “has decided to retire” from the company within the next 12 months. Ballmer’s departure will occur once a successor has been found, according to the press release.

Ballmer has been with Microsoft since 1980 as the company’s 30th employee and first business manager. He ascended to the CEO post in 2000 following founder Bill Gates’s decision to relinquish the job and remain as the company’s chairman.

We reviewed Ballmer’s career as CEO of the world’s largest software company just last month, and while Ballmer has performed capably, his achievements are not likely to put him into the high-tech pantheon along with Gates and Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) late founder and CEO Steve Jobs.

Ballmer just oversaw a major reorganization at Microsoft, and he referred to that in his statement:

There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time. We have embarked on a new strategy with a new organization and we have an amazing Senior Leadership Team. My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our company’s transformation to a devices and services company. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction.

That really doesn’t sound like the timing of today’s announcement was Ballmer’s choosing, does it?

Microsoft’s shares are up about 8.8% in premarket trading, at $35.25 in a 52-week range of $26.26 to $36.43.