In the wake of the Microsoft-Yahoo acquisition proposal, I’ve met quite a few disappointed Yahooligans. And they are not disappointed that they’d be working at Microsoft, they are disappointed that they’d be working for Steve Ballmer. And it’s not just the Yahooligans – I can’t tell you how many random people I’ve met who just simply hate Ballmer. And none of their experiences have been personal. I can see how Ballmer can come across as a mean, shrewd and cocky person who likes to eat babies and kills people for sport, but I’m here to tell you that Ballmer is probably the most intelligent, tactical and loyal person I’ve ever known. Clearly, this is going to be hard to digest especially considering I work at Microsoft.
I know, I know, I’ve seen the videos. I’ve heard about the Lucovsky incident. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened. But I don’t think people give Ballmer enough credit. I think people have to realize that this man sleeps like 4 hours a day, if that. Every word coming out of his mouth has the potential to change the world in some way. It’d be ridiculous to think that everything he says out loud hasn’t been planned or rehearsed multiple multiple times (some people think he just mouths off). Take this video for example :
I know it sounds like he’s just saying things for the sake of saying things, but, would this video have made YouTube otherwise? If I had to guess, he was trying to send a strong message subtly (and humorously).
In trying to deal with people who think Ballmer is a psycho, I’ve found that personal experiences don’t work so well. So, I’m going to quote John Wood from Room to Read who wrote “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World“. Please take some time to read this, it’ll help you understand Ballmer a LOT LOT better (please also buy Wood’s book – the proceeds go to a great cause) :
Chapter 15, BUILDING “THE MICROSOFT OF NONPROFITS”, Pg 146 :
Here was a guy worth over $10 billion, but he had not lost his human element or his willingness to look out for his team members. He’s a man who demands intense loyalty from his team. He more than reciprocates.
Pg 147-148 :
The next time I saw Steve was the day after the Boston marathon.
I rushed from the Seattle airport to the downtown Sheraton and walked into the meeting ten minutes into Steve’s presentation. Over 1,000 people were in the room, so I was not worried about anyone noticing my late arrival.
As I was talking to colleagues, I noticed out of the corner of my eye an entourage moving at warp speed in our direction. It was Steve, with twelve disciples trailing in his wake. As he passed us, he stopped, spun 90 degrees on his heels, and stared me in the eye. Holy shit, I thought, did he actually notice me walk in late? A maniacal grin crossed his face, he raised his right arm (to hit me?), and bellowed out in his inimitable style: “Three hours and four minutes in the Boston Marathon. Great time! Well run!“
“Wait. Stop! How did you know that?” Another abrupt halt. He grinned and with gusto boomed, “I know everything about my people!” That loyalty, more than anything else, explains why so many people who have worked for Steve are, to this day, intensely loyal to him.
Tell me that didn’t just give you goose bumps.
From Bad Boy Ballmer :
Ballmer adjectives abound. Steve’s described as “richly experienced.” “hyper-competitive,” “hardworking,” “relentless,” “a bully,” “Mr. Loud,” “quick-witted,” “impatient with fools,” and “sharply critical.” He’s Microsoft’s “chief coach, cheerleader, and hatchet man” who “focuses with laser intensity.”
Ballmer is Microsoft. Ballmer comes across as a mean bully, but I can only guess that this persona he carries around is for good reason. And he says what he says for good reason. What I like about him the most, is that he doesn’t care what anyone thinks. He’s trying to do his job and keep the company successful no matter what it takes, and for that, I totally respect the man.