Microsoft Corp. said Friday that CEO Steve Ballmer plans to retire within the next 12 months, depending on when a successor is chosen. "There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time," Ballmer said in a statement. Ballmer said he is retiring earlier than he originally expected because his initial plans would have put his retirement in the middle of the technology company’s massive planned transformation.
He said stepping down now allows a new CEO to lead the company in a new direction. The board of directors has formed a committee, which includes Chairman and Founder Bill Gates, to find a replacement.
Ballmer, 57, a close friend and confidant of co-founder Bill Gates since the company's earliest days, took over as CEO in January 2000. During his tenure Microsoft's revenues tripled but he's long been a target of criticism from Wall Street and Silicon Valley as the company's share price stagnated and rivals Apple and Google led a mobile computing revolution that has upended the global technology industry. Ballmer's planned exit comes just weeks after the company announced a major reorganization and delivered an earnings report that showed across-the-board weakness in the business, including dismal sales of the company's new Surface tablet and a lukewarm reaction to the crucial Windows 8 operating system.
Activist investing fund ValueAct Capital Management LP said in April that it had taken a stake in the company and shortly after began agitating for a change in strategy and a clear CEO succession plan.
There are no obvious candidates to succeed Ballmer at the company that has only had two CEOs in its 38-year history. Many promising executives have left or were pushed out by Ballmer, who had once indicated that he intended to stay at least until 2017.