Steve Ballmer – Microsoft Monkey Boy


The “monkey boy” comment came up several years ago when YouTube was first starting and a Ballmer video surfaced of him going nuts on stage in front of 15,000 people. It was interesting to see and hear the general publics reaction to this video. What kind of guy is running Microsoft?  What a psycho.  Wierdo.  Nut job.  It ran a lot on the local news. 

Having been at Microsoft for a long time I did not even blink an eye when I saw the video.  After all I had seen it so many times I frankly could not see what all the fuss was about. The Microsoft Global Sales Summit (later changed to Exchange) was where this always happened.  In my 18 years at Microsoft I went to 14 Sales summits. .  Always in July and always somewhere really hot. I always got to see Steve running around the crowd, jumping up and down, listening to his voice go horse, etc..  So lets run through my favorite “monkey boy” moments.

Climate wise the first was probably the best as it was in San Diego.  I can’t remember much of Steve from that meeting.  He came out yelling and screaming, so the new exec who followed Steve just thought that was what you do.  He came out yelling and screaming.  I don’t have the  definition of fool handy but I am sure that execs name can be found in the definition,

In 1996 we went to Montreal.  I like that city and the province, “Jem le Quebec”.  We always had a big opening act.  We had members from the dance troop from the musical “Stomp”  Very cool as they came about with 5 foot bamboo staffs.  Pounding the stage with those staffs and dancing and jumping it was great entertainment.  All of a sudden from backstage like a caged lion who had been released comes 260lbs of Steve Ballmer with a 5 foot staff.  Now you want to see some one pound a stage and jumping with mega force and screaming, well that was Steve.  It was very motivating.  After that he went to the podium and attempted to speak french.  Not so good, but a positive memory was imprinted in my heart and soul.

In 1999 we went to San Francisco.  As Mark Twain once said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer night in San Francisco”.  It was the only sales summit I can remember being cold at.  It was just before the DOJ case was to burst into the mainstream media.  It was the first time i had felt the mood at a Microsoft Summit was a bit down.  Steve came out as always  the San Francisco convention center.  He was rather heavy at this time, looking like we was enjoying the life of a CEO.  When he finally finished his run  around the center he got up to speak.  The problem was he was so out of shape and so winded he could hardly speak.  I just kept thinking, “great, this is just f***ing great.  The company I love is about to be put on trial for anti-trust and our CEO is about to have a heart-attack and die in front of 12,000 people”.  The monkey boy lived.

A few years later we were in Atlanta.  It was July. It was hot. I was walking around the conference center in downtown Atlanta when I spotted Steve going down an escalator.  What struck me as odd was he was wearing a rather heavy and ugly brown coat.  It will be explained a little later.  Now one thing about Steve is when he is on stage he perspires..a lot.  At one company meeting hosted by Dana Carey (of SNL fame), Dana had three words of advice for Steve “Aired Extra Dry”.  When Steve finally got on stage after dashing around the crowd it was quite apparent what was going on.  He was as sick as a dog (thus the reason for the big brown coat).  After 5 minutes he was not just sweating he was drenched.  His collar was completely soaked.  Steve managed to speak for 2 hours.  It was a great moment of leadership, passion and love for the company.  Orlando Ayala our VP of WorldWide sales acknowledged the performance afterwards as he should.

With the years passing and the company growing (shrinking now) Steve has continued his same performance.  He still has an immense love of the company.  But it seems to have lost its luster.  This years event in Atlanta as has become custom the performance made it to YouTube.  Despite best efforts as I am told by Microsoft to stop this.  The CNBC team even commented how lifeless the audience seemed to be in watching their CEO.  I can suggest a couple of reasons.  In the early days when Steve was out high fiving and yelling, most of those sales reps he was slapping hands with were people he had met and often had been on sales calls with them.  There was areal personal connection between Steve and the sales force.  Second most of the people who attend the sales summit’s these days are new hires.  The summit is the first time they have ever seen Steve in person.  Finally the overall event has lost its innocence and feels just like a big corporate sponsored event.  I don’t view this as a negative it is something that just happens when a company goes from 7500 employees to 90,000 employees.

We often say that corporate executives live in ivory towers and have lost touch with what is happening on the ground floor.  I think that has happened to Steve as much as he would fight against me saying that.  However that has not dimmed his enthusiasm for the company.  When the whole Monkey Boy thing came about I remember Steve Saying at eth corporate meeting, “I may be monkey boy!  But I’m your monkey boy!”  Yes Steve you are and you always will be.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans H Hoffmann July 27th 2010

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