Microsoft without Gates
The challenge isn't replacing Bill. That's already happened. Ballmer's big issues now: growth, Google, and those pesky Apple ads.
Steve Ballmer was sobbing. He repeatedly tried to speak and couldn't get the words out. Minutes passed as he tried to regain his composure. But the audience of 130 of Microsoft's senior leaders waited patiently, many of them crying too. They knew that the CEO was choked up because this executive retreat, held in late March at a resort north of Seattle, was the last ever for company co-founder Bill Gates, as well as for Jeff Raikes, one of the company's longest-tenured executives. "I've spent more time with these two human beings than with anyone else in my life," Ballmer finally said. "Bill and Jeff have been my North Star and kept me going. Now I'm going to count on all of you to be there for me."
What the executives were witnessing was the end of an era. On July 1, Gates officially retires from daily duties at the software giant. He's leaving in order to begin a second life as a full-time philanthropist and to explore his dizzying range of intellectual interests.
But his departure raises some obvious and very large questions about the future of Microsoft: Can the now $60 billion behemoth keep finding new ways to grow? Will Ballmer and his lieutenants be able to successfully adapt their products to an increasingly web-driven world? In short, does the company have what it takes to thrive without its iconic founder at the helm?