In a little over two months, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer will mark the 10th anniversary of his tenure as CEO, a stretch of time where he has seen software, lawsuits, mergers, acquisitions and competitive battle royals come and go.
Ballmer has started as many storms as he has weathered, worn his passion on his sleeve and exposed his temper on various occasions. He's been attacked by an egg tosser and danced into YouTube stardom. Critics dog him constantly, a burden that comes with the position.
Despite the expected ups and downs, Ballmer says he takes pride in where the company is positioned today and its outlook for the future. Thursday he will officially launch Windows 7, which could become the legacy of his leadership at Microsoft.He took over the CEO job from Bill Gates on Jan. 13, 2000, and when asked in an interview with Network World this week what were his greatest successes, greatest challenges and greatest regrets over that time, he chuckled and said, "Well, I probably had all three of those in spades."
He listed his successes as a tripling of profits in the past 10 years. "Which, ultimately matters if you are CEO; that is kind of an important dimension," he said. "That is off a high base, so I feel pretty good about that."
He said 10 years ago Microsoft was not considered a serious player in the enterprise but that perception is gone today. "I feel good about that," he said. "And I feel good that despite the hubbub of 10 year ago what was going to happen with Linux, with open source, and Internet and OpenOffice, we have done really well innovating and driving the kind of innovation in Windows and Office and Windows Server that has served us well."
Ballmer is also clear on the areas that perhaps keep him up at night.
"I wish we were a little further in the market and had a little bigger position in search, no question about that," he said. (Wednesday, Microsoft announced deals to integrate its Bing search engine with Twitter and Facebook.) "We jumped on mobile early and while we are in the mix we should have distanced ourselves from competition as opposed to just being in the mix."
With the popularity of the Apple iPhone and Verizon's Android mobile offering coming on the heels of this month's Windows Mobile 6.5 phones, which critics are giving a lukewarm reception, the mobile challenge will likely continue for Ballmer.
Ballmer matter-of-factly said there are plenty of regrets implying there is no time to dwell on them.
"Most of the regrets are 'hey, I wish we had done something earlier, I wish I had made a decision a little bit differently', but mostly I feel good about the things there are to be proud about."
Those things, he said, include being well positioned for the future. "We are investing in some amazing things, and I think we are poised to continue to be leader of our industry, but a lot of competitors are vying for that as well."