Microsoft CEO retirement news causes share price to rocket

Update: Microsoft share price soars in wake of Ballmer retirement announcement.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's retirement announcement prompted a nine per cent leap in the software giant's stock price, with shares later trading at two dollars short of a 52-week high.

The technology giant has yet to name a successor and the board of directors has formed a special committee to find a replacement, it confirmed on Friday.

Microsoft is an amazing place. I love this company. I love the way we helped invent and popularise computing and the PC.

The committee is chaired by John Thompson, the board's lead independent director, and includes Microsoft co-founder and chairman of the board Bill Gates.

The special committee will also work with executive recruiting firm, Heidrick & Struggles to find the new CEO. Microsoft will be considering external and internal candidates for the position.

In a memo to employees Steve Ballmer noted the company needs a CEO to oversee the new strategy which has been put in place.

"The strategy we have generated is first class. Our new organisation, which is centered on functions and engineering areas, is right for the opportunities and challenges ahead," he noted.

"Microsoft is an amazing place. I love this company. I love the way we helped invent and popularise computing and the PC. I love the bigness and boldness of our bets."

When quizzed by ZDNet, shortly after his retirement was announced on Friday, Ballmer claimed the decision to step down had been a long time coming.

"I've thought about it for a long time, but the timing became more clear to me over the course of the last few months," he told the publication.

"I would have to say my thinking has intensified really over the last couple - two, two and a half months, something thing that."

However, he revealed the decision to do it now had taken place "a day or two ago".

"Bill [Gates] respects my decision," he added. "Ultimately these kinds of things have to be one's own personal decision."

Ballmer was the 30th employee hired at Microsoft by Bill Gates when he joined in 1980. He progressed up the ranks, and was appointed to the CEO position in 2000.

Eyebrows will no doubt be raised about the timing of his retirement announcement. Ballmer had just announced one of the biggest re-organisations in the history of Microsoft.

Despite Microsoft's core Office and Windows products continuing to generate cash, the firm has struggled to adapt to life in the post-PC era.

Microsoft was forced to swallow a $900 million write-down in the last quarter when it failed to sell a significant amount of Surface RT tablets.

Windows 8 was also critically mauled when it was released in October 2012 and head of Windows division, Steve Sinofsky, was quickly ushered out of the door as soon as it started shipping.

In Sinofsky's absense, Terry Myerson, who was promoted to head up  the Windows Phone division and veteran Jullie Larson-Green who is now in charge of all hardware development are likely to be internal frontrunners for the CEO position.

Despite all this, Ballmer told ZDNet his biggest regret during his time at Microsoft was the "loopedy-loo...that was sort of Longhorn to [Windows] Vista".

"I would say that's probably the thing I regret most. And, you know, there are side effects of that when you tie up a big team to do something that doesn't prove out to be as valuable," he added.

This article was first published on Friday 23 August, and was updated on Tuesday 27 August to reflect share price changes and Ballmer's feedback on the announcement.

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