When thinking about his own life over the last ten years, Microsoft's very well paid CEO does not consider it a lost decade. "It’s not been a lost decade for me!" Ballmer told Forbes's Rich Karlgaard, who was asking in reference to this month's scathing Vanity Fair article about the company's crippling bureaucracy and general decline since its '90s reign. Though Microsoft hasn't seen a hit since its Windows 95 release, ceding market share and overall cachet to Apple, from Ballmer's throne -- he made $1,376,915 just last year, for example -- things don't look so bad.
In fact, as the company stock has seen a general decline and constant under-performance since the turn of the new century, Ballmer's stock has seen a general increase. His base salary and overall compensation has gotten bigger over the last three years, as Daily Finance's Evan Niu points out. Unlike other stock-rich tech CEOs, such as Steve Jobs, Lary Ellison, and soon Mark Zuckerberg, Ballmer doesn't take a symbolic $1 annual salary. On top of his 333.3 million shares, he gets over $600,000 a year.
Getting rich while the company slumps hasn't isolated Ballmer from criticism, but it hasn't facilitated his ousting yet either.When David Einhorn, whose firm Greenlight Capital owns 9 million Microsoft shares, called for his resignation last year -- a move that got Microsoft stock holders all giddy -- Ballmer got the board on his side, thus keeping his job. Actually, Ballmer has escaped many calls for his ousting over the years. Even though Ballmer's business mind is exactly what has encouraged Microsoft's engineers to create for money, not for innovation, at least according to Vanity Fair's Kurt Eichenwald. That he has lasted 12 years makes his dominion look like the opposite of a lost decade for him.
Plus, Einhorn doesn't measure success by shareholder whims. "I mean, look, ultimately progress is measured sort of through the eyes of our users. More than our investors or our P&L or anything else, it’s through the eyes of our users," he told Karlgaard. Though, perhaps Ballmer should stay away from that metric for this particular proof. Microsoft may still have the largest market share of operating systems, as that chart via Wikimedia stats show. But, over years it has lost market share not only to Apple's OS, but in the smartphone and tablet markets, where it is just now releasing the Windows 8 compatible Surface tablet and Windows phones. And we hear all those Windows Vista users are pretty unhappy with the product.
But what does Ballmer care? Throughout the nasty years, he kept his job, made a lot of money. And if Microsoft makes the comeback some say it might with Surface and Windows 8, he will get all the credit, no longer looking like a foolish Monkey Boy. Ballmer didn't lose a decade, he held on to one.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.