The 2014 Tech Impact Awards: Lifetime Achievement
September 15, 2014
It was a balmy night in las vegas and hundreds of techies were packed into opening night of the 2003 Comdex IT trade show. As the lights dimmed and the event kicked off, a well-produced video spoofing the sci-fi classic The Matrix welcomeed attendees. Bill Gates starred as aging sage Morpheus, doling out wisdom. Filling Keanu Reeves savior-like shoes was Steve Ballmer, three years into his term as Microsoft CEO.
The video elicited chuckles but its underlying message was sound. In Matrix terms, Ballmer had become The One in the computer industry. Googles rise and Apples resurgence were a way off, and Microsofts grip on the global computer market was firm and indisputable.
Ballmers path to the top was a long one. He joined Microsoft in 1980, lured to drop out of Stanfords postgraduate business school by Gates, his former dorm mate at Harvard. During the next 20 years, Ballmer steered several important departments at Microsoft, including the industry-dominating sales and OS development departments, before becoming president in 1998.
No person other than Gates has played a larger role in Microsofts growth and, in turn, the Puget Sound tech industrys growth. In the years leading up to his retirement this past February, the press sometimes hammered Ballmers Microsoft for being slow to react to new trends. Nonetheless, under his reign, the company saw profits nearly triple to $22 billion while revenues quadrupled.
Ballmers enthusiastic rhetoric and near-religious commitment to Microsoft have earned him a reputation as king among salesmen. But his contributions to the area, philanthropic and otherwise, cannot be overlooked. In a location once known economically for only airplanes and fish, Ballmer helped establish the Puget Sound region as a world-class, high-tech ecosystem. His impact will endure for decades.