Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to retire within 12 months

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Call it the end of an era. Friday, Microsoft announced that Steve Ballmer will be retiring within the next 12 months, bringing his 13-year run as CEO of the company to an end.

“There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” Ballmer said in a Microsoft press release. “We have embarked on a new strategy with a new organization and we have an amazing Senior Leadership Team. My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our company’s transformation to a devices and services company. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction.”

Ballmer, of course, recently refocused Microsoft in order to drag the PC stalwart into the faster-moving mobile age, initiating drastic sea changes such as the device-spanning Windows 8 operating system, a push towards rapid-fire releases rather than 3-year development cycles, "One Microsoft, all the time," an increased focus on services and the cloud, and the launch of the Surface brand—Microsoft's first foray into competing with its manufacturing partners.

Any of those could be considered a major shakeup. All of those combined constitute a near-complete reimagining of Microsoft.

Those monumental changes may be the reason for Ballmer's retirement, according to Patrick Moorhead, the principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy and an industry veteran who held senior leadership roles at AMD and Compaq. He finds the 12 month search for a successor suspicious.

"Somebody pissed somebody off," Moorhead says. "Potentially it was this $900 million write down [for Surface RT tablets]. If I had to bet money, I'd say that that was the straw that broke the camel's back."

Moving forward and looking back

No matter what the reason for Ballmer's departure, the newly molded Microsoft will have a new CEO to lead it—sometime.The exact date of Ballmer's retirement is unknown, as he plans to step down once his successor is determined.

Who, exactly, will carry the torch forward is up in the air. Plenty of potent leaders still call Microsoft home, but the short list of possible CEOs has certainly shortened in recent years, as high-profile Microsoft executives like Ray Ozzie, Stephen Elop, and former Windows president Stephen Sinofsky have all left the company.

Whoever takes over the reins will have some mighty big shoes to fill. Ballmer was Microsoft's 30th employee and its first business manager, and for all the grief tossed Ballmer's way in the wake of Windows 8, there's no denying that the company accomplished some amazing things under his stead.

Like what, you ask? Here are Ballmer's accomplishments in Ballmer's own words, via a farewell letter sent to all Microsoft employees.

I am proud of what we have achieved. We have grown from $7.5 million to nearly $78 billion since I joined Microsoft, and we have grown from employing just over 30 people to almost 100,000. I feel good about playing a role in that success and having committed 100 percent emotionally all the way. We have more than 1 billion users and earn a great profit for our shareholders. We have delivered more profit and cash return to shareholders than virtually any other company in history.

And he's continued that trend of profitability even with his retirement notice. Microsoft's stock is up more than 7 percent on news of his leaving.

Thanks for the memories, Steve—and for Windows XP, Windows 7, the continued awesomeness that is Office, the Xbox, and heck, even the Ribbon interface. (I love it!) I'll give Ballmer the last word, via his goodbye note.

This is an emotional and difficult thing for me to do. I take this step in the best interests of the company I love; it is the thing outside of my family and closest friends that matters to me most.

Updated 10:50 A.M. E.T. with quote from Patrick Moorhead.

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