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Former Microsoft exec says Ballmer ruthlessly weeds out anyone who could challenge his leadership

Updated Jan 22nd, 2013 3:30PM EST
Microsoft Ballmer Leadership

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There’s no shortage of criticism of Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer’s leadership style and now one former executive has decided to speak up and take his former boss to task. In an interview with Reuters, former Windows sales senior vice president Joachim Kempin described Ballmer as a suffocating presence who is always looking to eliminate perceived threats to his reign as Microsoft’s chief executive.

“When you work that directly with Ballmer and Ballmer believes ‘maybe this guy could someday take over from me’, my God, you will have less air to breathe, that’s what it comes down to,” Kempin told Reuters. “It was Steve’s way or the highway.”

Kempin also described a series of missed opportunities in which Microsoft would talk about the need to extend Windows into the mobile realm but would fail to meaningfully follow up any fresh ideas.

“They missed all the opportunities they were talking about when I was still in the company,” said Kempin, who worked at Microsoft from 1983 to 2002. “Tablets, phones…we had a tablet going, we had tablet software when Windows XP came out, it was never followed up properly.”

Finally, Kempin said that Microsoft’s board needed to take a hard look at whether Ballmer is the right man to lead the company and said that Microsoft could benefit from some young blood taking over to revive the company’s tradition of innovation.

“They need somebody maybe 35-40 years old, a younger person who understands the Facebook generation and this mobile community,” he said. “They don’t need this guy on stage with this fierce, aggressive look, announcing the next version of Windows and thinking he can score with that.”

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.