Speaking at the Saïd Business School in Oxford, U.K., Steve Ballmer, who stepped down from Microsoft one month ago, admitted that he would re-do the last ten years if he could.
“We would have a stronger position in the phone market today if I could re-do the last 10 years,” he said. The answer, he said, is to pick up and try to catch the next wave.
Mr. Ballmer said the proposed acquisition of Nokia Corp. was very important to that future for Microsoft.
Perhaps the biggest star of that next wave so far is WhatsApp. The messaging service’s founders said last month they had sold for $19 billion to Facebook Inc. Mr. Ballmer questioned whether the company would prove worth the price.
“Is it a fad?” he said. “Well, probably not. It looks more like text [messaging.] I don’t know whether they’ll be successful or not.”
“Will that asset ever be worth anything? Will those 450 million people ever generate enough revenue?” he said. “Reasonable people – Zuckerberg believes so, and no reason to doubt it.”
Mr. Ballmer was speaking Tuesday at Oxford University, at his first public appearance after handing over the CEO role last month to Satya Nadella.
“I’m a very interested board member,” he said of the company he joined in 1980 and headed since 2000.
“I own 4% of Microsoft,” he said. “I care a lot about my child, and my investment, and therefore the investment of the other owners of our company.”
Mr. Ballmer gave advice and answered questions for an hour to a packed room of students in a talk punctuated with plenty of laughs and hand clapping from the 57-year-old Detroit native. He told students that the toughest decisions he has had to make were hiring – and firing – the right people.
His successor has been doing just that. Mr. Nadella said Monday that several top executives would be replaced in the transition to new leadership. Mr. Ballmer didn’t specifically address that, and he said Microsoft has a “great team who will speak on behalf of the company.”