Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer came back to the Stanford Graduate School of Business on March 15 to share his insights into the world of corporate leadership, management and to call for more students to embrace a career in technology.
The event, titled "A Conversation with Steve Ballmer," was attended by several hundred Stanford students and was moderated by Robert Joss, the dean of the Stanford Business School.
Joss introduced Ballmer by telling attendees that Ballmer grew up in Detroit, was active in high school basketball, got a perfect 800 on his mathematics SAT, and went to Harvard, where he got his undergraduate degree in applied math and economics.
Several years later, after a stint at Procter & Gamble, Ballmer returned to his studies, this time at Stanford Business School, class of 1981, but he left after his first year to join Bill Gates at his startup called Microsoft, where Ballmer was the first business hire.
Ballmer received applause when taking the stage and thanked the students for their welcome. Asked about the state of play at Microsoft, Ballmer responded that the companys core competence is writing software for broad, horizontal things, but he noted that applying that is also very important.
"The power of software will continue to positively change society," he said, citing how Gates and other Microsoft executives had recently come up with the top 100 technologies that will change the world going forward.
"I asked him for just five, but Bill said that, as we spend $7 billion on research and development every year, he wanted $70 and $100 million for each," he said.
Ballmer said that while Microsoft had reached a milestone with Vista—acknowledging that it took longer than he would have liked to get there—the release of that operating system had enabled the next generation of growth.
Asked what it was like being one of his direct reports, Ballmer said there was enough for him to do without having to micromanage those executives.
He said 35 percent of his time was spent on representing the company externally, a third was tied up in coaching and mentoring staff, doing review and execution strategies, board and recruiting meetings, with a third of his time spent on things he wanted to focus on—big challenges or areas of strategic growth.