NEW YORK — Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, known as much for his zany personality as his business discipline, will leave a legacy of mixed results and a monumental challenge for his yet-to-be-named successor.
Ballmer announced on Friday that he plans to retire sometime in the next year. He has worked for the company for 33 years. After helping founder Bill Gates transform Microsoft from a tiny start-up into the world’s most valuable company, Ballmer took over for Gates in early 2000.
The new millennium marked a dark period for Microsoft. As smartphones and tablet computers began to eclipse personal computers, detractors say Ballmer didn’t take early threats from Apple and Google seriously enough. Ballmer consistently considered Google as a one-trick company and in 2007 declared: “No chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.”
Ballmer’s jeers proved premature. Google quickly made important inroads in Internet video, online maps, e-mail and mobile computing and contributed to the damage that Apple’s iPhone and iPad have done to Microsoft and its partners in the PC market.
Microsoft, along with other companies that thrived in the era of personal computers, is scrambling to transform its business as people increasingly come to rely on smartphones and tablets.
“There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” Ballmer, 57, said in a statement released by the Redmond, Wash., company.
Microsoft did not name a successor, but it’s certain that the person who takes the reigns will need to push the world’s largest software company further into mobile devices and step up its competition with faster-moving rivals.
Microsoft said Friday that it’s forming a search committee, which will include Gates. Ballmer will stay on until a replacement is found.
After the news broke, Microsoft’s stock shot up as much as 9 percent shortly after the markets opened. They came within two dollars of their 52-week high. Over the past 52 weeks, the company’s shares have traded between $26.26 and $36.43.