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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

January 9, 2013 at 1:15 PM

The curious case of Ballmer hatred

In more than 25 years as a business/financial journalist, I have never covered a more despised chief executive than Steve Ballmer. He’s hated by most investors and analysts, many current and former Microsoft employees, the technology community — it’s a long list.

I’ve covered some very hate-worthy moguls. Forgive some name-dropping, but these include “Neutron Jack” Welch, who laid off tens of thousands of General Electric employees and set in place many toxic management practices; Hugh McColl Jr. of Bank of America with his swagger, hand-grenade collection and mergers that cost thousands more jobs; Jamie Dimon, the foul-mouthed, ruthless JPMorgan Chase boss who nabbed Washington Mutual; Cincinnati financier and bankruptcy mastermind Carl Lindner; Charles H Keating Jr. of the S&L scandals, and T. Boone Pickens, who remade the oil business with his hostile takeovers in the 1980s. In some cases, they are still lionized and influential. A few, such as Pickens, are quite charming.

The only one who comes close is Roger Smith of General Motors back in the 1980s. Not good company.

A typical anti-Ballmer screed is this one from Helix Asset Management:

Since becoming CEO on January 13, 2000, Steve Ballmer has presided over one of the most spectacular falls from grace in the history of corporate America. Microsoft has gone from being a beacon of innovation to a company that many see as an artifact of a bygone era. We do not think this is the way that things must be. Microsoft has thousands of intelligent, capable people that are ready, willing, and able to produce innovative new products. What they lack is a CEO who is willing to abandon the past for a brighter future.

Presiding over a nearly flatlined stock price and instituting the vile “stack ranking” evaluation system will do much to cause animosity. So will being blindsided by the likes of Apple and Google. But the personal, visceral nature of the feelings toward Ballmer — Bill Gates’ handpicked successor — is striking. I suspect most Seattleites would rather have a beer with Kerry Killinger than Ballmer. Maybe commenters can explain why.

Let me be clear: I don’t hate Ballmer. Why don’t the haters aim at the board, too, or at Gates? Killinger presided over the reckless destruction of a venerable Seattle institution, with huge collateral damage to the community and financial system. Charles “One Buck Chuck” Prince and Vikram Pandit were at the helm as Citigroup shares dropped precipitously. Yet their looks weren’t a topic of discussion. So my interest is understanding this deeply personal animus.

And Don’t Miss: Hank Greenberg should be shot into space for suing the government over the AIG bailout || Matt Taibbi

Today’s Econ Haiku:

New Treasury boss

Will you hang with Wall Street boyz

Or the taxpayers?

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