Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer shocked the tech industry over the weekend by announcing his intention to quit within the next year — a surprising move given he has worked at Microsoft since 1980 and occupied the CEO chair since 2000. One key secret to his longevity in the role? A willingness to pack every second of his day for maximum efficiency.
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I first encountered Steve Ballmer in January 1996 during a media briefing (his whistle-stop tours of Australia invariably included some form of press conference). He was executive vice president back then and not even that well-known within tech circles; Bill Gates was absolutely the dominant figure.
As I wrote at the time in a magazine profile, I was immediately struck by Ballmer's willingness to ignore conventional rules of social interaction:
Time is key to Ballmer; while local MD Chris Kelliher introduces him, he intently reads a newspaper. He pauses mid press-conference to make a note to send someone an e-mail. We'll keep, but he won't.
Some 17 years later, that gesture strikes me as still somewhat charmless, but undeniably efficient. If you want to get through a CEO-length to-do list, that's not going to happen if you dither.