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Steve Ballmer
Steve Ballmer's Microsoft Legacy Is Mixed

By Chris OBrien
June 3, 2014 9:38AM

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No one is surprised that former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer is buying a major sports franchise. Known for his relentless, singular focus, Ballmer is expected to be "all in" with the operations of the NBA Clippers. But that focus and intensity has bred a mixed legacy at Microsoft, where numerous challenges faced Ballmer.

That Steve Ballmer is buying a sports franchise is no surprise to anyone who worked with him over the many decades he was at Microsoft.

As a boy, born and raised in Detroit, he badly wanted to play basketball, but ended up a manager for his high school team. As an adult, what little time he spent away from the office included playing basketball with his kids. And his mornings often started with a pickup basketball game at a sports club next to the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash.

A few years ago he was part of a group that tried to keep the Seattle SuperSonics from leaving town. And more recently, he joined a group that tried to buy the Sacramento Kings. During those efforts, Ballmer was still chief executive of one of the most important tech companies in the world. Love him or hate him, Ballmer is known for his relentless, singular focus. He likely would have been a silent partner, staying behind the scenes.

But now, free of his Microsoft operational duties, associates say he's looking for something to pour his considerable energy into. That's likely to be the Clippers, for which Ballmer [won] a frenetic bidding war with an offer of $2 billion.

"Steve is a big NBA fan, and I grew up going to Warriors games so we talked hoops, mostly," said Doug Free, who managed public relations for Microsoft in Silicon Valley. "Steve is the kind of guy that is very competitive and commits fully to whatever he does. I figured once he stepped away from running Microsoft he would buy a major sports franchise, and when he does, he will go all in."

That ability to direct his passion in one direction was evident early, when his parents told him he would one day go to Harvard. After Ballmer graduated, he went to work at Procter & Gamble, where, among other things, he oversaw sales and marketing for Moist 'n' Easy Snack Cake. He shared a cubicle with another young, ambitious employee name Jeffrey Immelt, who would go on to run General Electric.

In 1980, Bill Gates convinced Ballmer to drop out of his Stanford University MBA program and become Microsoft's first business manager. Once there, Ballmer was again all in.

After the company went public in 1986, Ballmer was worth more than $47 million before he turned 30. He also gave a million dollars' worth of stock to his father, a longtime Ford Motor Co. employee. Rather than diversifying his stock holdings, Ballmer borrowed $46 million to buy more Microsoft shares on the open market, demonstrating his commitment to the company's long-term fortunes. (continued...)

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© 2014 Los Angeles Times (CA) under contract with NewsEdge. All rights reserved.

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