In January 2000 Bill Gates gave his responsibilities and the title chief executive officer of Microsoft to his best friend, Steve Ballmer, who had been at Gates's side almost since the company's earliest days. The news sent shock waves throughout the technology and computer worlds, making many people wonder about the man who was now entrusted with Bill Gates's baby. The life of Steve Ballmer is an incredible story of tremendous ambition, genius, arrogance, and charisma, an up-by-the-bootstraps saga of how the child of immigrants growing up in suburban Michigan became the only American billionaire to acquire his wealth working for someone else. Bad Boy Ballmer also reveals a man so arrogant that after the Department of Justice filed its antitrust suit against Microsoft, Ballmer stood onstage in San Jose and proclaimed "to hell with Janet Reno," a man so intense and aggressive that he once ripped his vocal cords by yelling too loudly. In this revealing biography -- based on in-depth study and interviews with Microsoft insiders -- Fredric Alan Maxwell provides the complete, controversial narrative of one of the technology industry's most influential, talked-about figures: Steven Anthony Ballmer, the awkward Detroit Country Day School valedictorian who rose to become Microsoft's president, and in the past two years, its CEO.
Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen may be the most well-known rulers of the huge computer empire, but this latest offering attempts to show that the company's current CEO, the colorful and bombastic Steve Ballmer, an early Microsoft employee and friend of Gates's from their days at Harvard, is in fact the company's muscle. Unfortunately, this "biography" is little more than a re-hashing of Microsoft's already well-documented ruthless business practices, staggering financial success and endless legal travails. Seattle-based writer and researcher Maxwell, once profiled in the New Yorker for his research skills, does succeed in assembling an array of secondary sources into a concise edition of the Microsoft saga. But as a biography of Ballmer, the book falls woefully short. Readers learn that Ballmer was born in an affluent Detroit suburb, is of Jewish heritage, was a classic overachiever who worked his way into Harvard, dropped out of Stanford Business School and was briefly employed as a brand manager for Procter & Gamble. But beyond a few examples of Ballmer's frighteningly enthusiastic style he once ripped his vocal chords while giving a particularly forceful speech there's very little about Ballmer's true impact on Microsoft, or of Microsoft's impact on Ballmer. In his introduction, Maxwell gushes that Ballmer's is the "incredible story of tremendous ambition, genius, and charisma, of intense drive and merit, of insatiable greed and blatant arrogance." But there is in fact so little Ballmer and so much Microsoft in this book, it is a stretch to call this effort a biography. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 31, 2003
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Excerpt from Bad Boy Ballmer by Fredric Alan Maxwell
In the Beginning
Thirty years ago and twenty-three hundred miles apart, Detroit, where fifteen-year-old Steve Ballmer was being raised, and Seattle, where he'd end up, were vastly different places. Most people know of Thanksgiving in Seattle in 1971 by one name: D. B. Cooper. Though difficult to imagine after the World Trade Center and Pentagon airplane bombings, D.B. Cooper became a folk hero for his peaceful, soft-spoken skyjacking of a Northwest Airlines flight from Portland to Seattle that Thanksgiving eve. En route, Cooper demanded four parachutes and two hundred thousand dollars, showing a stewardess what appeared to be a bomb. Northwest officials radioed the pilot, saying, "We're giving him what he wants." The plane landed safely at the Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) airport. A few hours later, after he'd released the other passengers in return for the money and parachutes, and the plane was heading south, D.B. Cooper manually lowered the plane's rear stairs, jumped out, and parachuted into the Washington wilderness and American folklore, never to be seen again. As the news spread, many lauded the air pirate some called a modern-day Robin Hood, whom the New York Times would editorialize "didn't have the notoriety of John Dillinger, yet." D.B. Cooper T-shirts, books, and even songs would follow. As one professor observed, Cooper had "won public admiration through an awesome feat in the battle of man against machine -- one individual overcoming, for the time being anyway, technology, the corporation, the establishment, the system." D.B. Cooper's name greeted Americans awaking to Thanksgiving Day in 1971, much to the chagrin of Henry Ford II.
The day before, "Hank the Duce" had announced his plans to build a two-hundred-million-dollar collection of offices and stores in downtown Detroit, which he optimistically called the Renaissance Center. Yet D.B. Cooper had stolen Ford's headlines in the Detroit Free Press. More than a few of his customers shared Ford's anger, but his products were their targets. The company's reputation for dependability had sunk to the point where the letters ford were said to stand for "Fixed or Repaired Daily." Earlier in the year one customer, Eddie Campos, drove his Lincoln Continental onto the lawn of a Ford assembly plant, poured gasoline on it, and set it on fire. "I saved up for five years to buy that car new," Campos said, "and it turned out to be a lemon. I had it towed in for repairs ten thousand times and everybody just laughed at me -- the dealers I took it to, the Ford people. I couldn't get no satisfaction." A deputy sheriff at the scene described Campos as "perfectly sober, perfectly rational, and completely disgusted." Thirty years later, more than a few of Microsoft's customers, competitors, and employees could relate.
Still, even though Ford was peddling generally mediocre cars that were supported by generally mediocre service, the company managed to sell over 2.4 million of them that year in North America. Another highlight came when a Ford car, the Lunar Rover, was driven on the moon that July. And Ford attorneys were feeling upbeat about arguments they had made a week before, in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, to overturn their Sherman Antitrust Act conviction, for cutting competition in the spark plug market, a conviction the Supreme Court would uphold seven months later. All this was common knowledge in Detroit and at Ford.