After serving at Microsoft for more than three decades and leading it as CEO for nearly half of that, Steve Ballmer stepped down as CEO back in February. Since leaving the top job he has largely kept himself out of the spotlight. Though back in March he gave a speech at Oxford Union, his first public speaking engagement following his departure from Microsoft. Highlights of that speech were recently posted online. During the talk he referred to both Microsoft and Apple as “two-trick” ponies.
He started off by saying that most successful companies are only “one-trick ponies,” pointing towards Coca-Cola, which has more or less been doing the exact same thing for over 100 years. But he noted that in the technology business there are no 100-year tricks.
Calling the invention of the modern PC Microsoft’s first trick, Ballmer said its second was getting that technology adopted by businesses around the world. Of Apple he said its first trick was building the Macintosh and second was advancing low-power touch computing first with the iPod.
Now he thinks its time for a third trick, even though the previous two will continue to go on for years to come. When asked in what direction he would like to see Microsoft go, Ballmer said he’s looking towards cloud services and hardware devices as well as the idea of machine learning being combined with big data for virtual digital assistants.
Microsoft has taken two steps in this direction with the acquisition of Nokia’s devices and services business as well as the launch of Cortana, its very own Siri rival. Ballmer, who is now Microsoft’s largest individual shareholder, might be pleased after all.