Steve Ballmer Rocks! And (sigh) so does Derek Jeter...

Microsoft held its company meeting today. I always love to tell the story about the first company meeting I attended. It was two years ago in the Fall of 2002. They held it at Safeco Field and it was one of the greatest experiences I ever had. 20,000+ people that all loved what they did for a living and weren’t afraid to show it. We saw the execs like John Connors and Jim Allchin. Of course, Bill Gates was there. But there was no doubt who the star of the show was. At the end of the long six-hour marathon, our beloved CEO made his entrance. Steve Ballmer is one of a kind. Like Bill Gates, he seems larger than life. But where Bill is calm and thoughtful, Steve is a 45rpm record on 78rpm. For you Spinal Tap fans out there, he is always on 11.

But for all the opinions I had about him, I never saw him like I did at the company meeting in 2002. He made an entrance like no other. The cannons fired, the music blared, and Steve sprinted up and down the aisles, high-fiving employees, pumping everybody up. The employees were cheering like Mariners had just won the World Series and it wasn’t enough for Steve. He goaded the crowd to make even more noise. Whether it’s the entertainment business, sports leagues, or whatever, I’ve never seen anyone love the stage more than that. He opened by using the same line he says he used every year: "I LOVE THIS COMPANY!!!" He launched into his speech by describing his love affair of the company and why he was so excited about the past, present, and future. There was a recession and declining IT spending, but you wouldn’t know it from the optimism in his voice. He convinced the lot of us to think about the future. I left that meeting ready to run into a brick wall for Microsoft because I was so excited about the concept of changing the world and how were in a position to do it.

Ahh, but I was wise to him. "Sure Steve," I thought, "that works on me now. I have only been at Microsoft for a year and haven’t grown cynical. That shtick won’t work a couple of years later when I am wise to you and all this Microsoft stuff (“propaganda”, as a Ballmer biographer put it)."

Fast forward to 2004. OK, maybe it still works.

I spent today getting swept away once again. The man’s optimism and excitement is infectious. His approach to being a visionary is far different than Bill Gates. Bill will cite specific technologies (speech recognition, IPTV, etc.) and try to get specific with what the future looks like. It is great to hear those things and hear it from someone who knows whereof he speaks, having been such an influential player over the last 20 years. It's like listening to an wise oracle (no pun intended :>). Meanwhile, Steve knows about those things, but his take is more holistic: the last 10 years were amazing, but the next 10 years will be even more impressive. How isn’t nearly as important as the fact that it will be and Microsoft will do everything it can to be in the center of it. He sees the glass half full and constantly implores you to find the ways to fill the glass. At a time when Microsoft gets accused of being over the hill, it’s hard to feel that way with a leader like Steve Ballmer. I think there’s a sports analogy in this.

I always say that an important part of why I decided to join Microsoft was the legacy of the company. If Yankee Stadium is the house that Ruth built, Microsoft is the house that Gates built. And like any baseball player that walks onto the grass of a Yankees Stadium, I feel the history of this company with every step I take on this campus. But while Ruth and Gehrig remain legends, you can’t help but know that 50 years from now, players will be talking about today’s stars, Derek Jeter and Marianno Rivera, in the same light. Building a dynasty in the age of sports parity is amazing. In the case of Steve Ballmer, he was part of that first piece, but his long-term impact of this company will be like a Jeter or a Rivera: achieving the same level of success of his ground-breaking predecessors but doing so in an even more competitive climate by leveraging a style far different from their predecessors. Now I am an Orioles fan and I grew up hating the Yankees in my Jersey childhood, but I respect the history of the Yankees and I respect the way most of them play the game. I tried so hard to hate Jeter, but the headlong dive into the stands against the Red Sox earlier this year (complete w/bloody nose) clinched it. He plays the game the way it was meant to be played and it’s better to just watch and enjoy and begrudge it. And try as you might the hate Steve Ballmer, it’s so much more fun to love him and embrace the excitement he brings to the industry. As long as he is here, I was always feel like Microsoft is a place that I can rally around. Hey, they are both from Michigan, so maybe there is something in the water...

 

So, to Steve Ballmer, I say thanks. And to Derek Jeter, I say keep up the good work (but I still wanna see the Angels or Twins take you out in the playoffs)…

{The Hives - Tyrannosaurus Hives}