Ballmer exits Microsoft board -- stock market nods approval

Ballmer's departure had to happen someday, but the news came so abruptly that many were caught flatfooted

If you haven't heard by now, SteveB has submitted his resignation from Microsoft's board, effective immediately. Gregg Keizer at Computerworld quotes analyst Patrick Moorhead as saying, "What was [Ballmer] going to do on the board? Defend his old strategy?" and that describes the situation precisely. You can take all the rest of the excuses with a grain of salt: Ballmer may be working his butt off now that he has a pro team and a teaching gig, but he's always worked his butt off. He certainly dumps a mean bucket of ice water.

And, no, he wasn't fired. Jeez. Since when does a company fire its largest shareholder?

Clearly, Ballmer's comfortable with the new Nadella direction, and -- like BillG before him -- wants to move on and do something different.

Here's the part of the resignation letter that I found most interesting. Ballmer says:

I have confidence in our approach of mobile-first, cloud-first, and in our primary innovation emphasis on platforms and productivity and the building of capability in devices and services as core business drivers.

That has to be the most amazing mash-up of new, aging, and discredited directions for Microsoft ever uttered.

Nadella responded with a very nice ... rebuke? Maybe it's a rebuke, maybe it's a strange counterthrust:

Under your leadership, we created an incredible foundation that we continue to build on -- and Microsoft will thrive in the mobile-first, cloud-first world.

Certainly, Microsoft's handlers and lawyers wrote, edited, and vetted every detail of both memos.

Ballmer also addressed the most important question, for many: Will he start selling off Microsoft stock? Here's what he says:

I hold more Microsoft shares than anyone other than index funds and love the mix of profits, investments, and dividends returned in our stock. I expect to continue holding that position for the foreseeable future.

I don't know how you read that, but I look at it as something less than a rock-solid promise to keep his shares. Microsoft's been turning out 28-cent dividends every quarter for some time now, and the dividend is rumored to be on the increase. That means SteveB gets a tidy $93 million four times a year -- nice pocket money.

The stock market didn't exactly roar as it did when Ballmer announced he was retiring as CEO, but it showed a hefty 1.2 percent gain on the day. It's drifting higher after hours.

So long, SteveB. What a long, strange trip it's been.

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