Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer plans to step down within the next year after his successor is named, the company announced on Friday.
“There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” Ballmer said in a statement. “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.”
Ballmer detailed his vision for the company's re-org in July. "Going forward, our strategy will focus on creating a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go for the activities they value most," he wrote in a memo to staff on July 11.
As The New York Times also reported in July, Microsoft has been hit by the shrinking PC market, with consumers increasingly flocking to tablets and other mobile devices—a trend that has similarly rocked companies like Dell.
Ballmer has been pilloried in the press for some time. In May 2012, Forbes contributor Adam Hartung placed Ballmer atop a list of "CEOs who should already have been fired," writing, "Without a doubt, Mr. Ballmer is the worst CEO of a large publicly traded American company today."
"Microsoft is [a] PC company, nothing more, as demand for PCs shifts to mobile," he added.
And in December 2012, CNBC labeled Ballmer one of its worst CEOs of 2012.
Ballmer's tenure has been mixed, to say the least. While the company's core Windows and enterprise businesses continues to print money (each brought in roughly $20 billion during the most recent fiscal year), the company has been criticized for being lumbering, plagued by bureaucracy (brought to light in a famous Vanity Fair piece) and slow to innovate.
In the past year, the much-hyped Windows 8 launch has underwhelmed, while the iPad wannabe Surface tablet has been a complete bust. The company's media and advertising business has long lost money, and many have questioned Ballmer's commitment to that endeavor. And despite spending heavily, Bing has never quite made Google nervous.
On the flip side, Xbox has been an unqualified success for Microsoft, putting the company ahead of many competitors in the quest to make the digital living room a reality.
Microsoft said Friday that its board has created a committee to find Ballmer's successor. "The special committee is working with Heidrick & Struggles International Inc., a leading executive recruiting firm, and will consider both external and internal candidates," Microsoft said.