BALLMER, STEVE (1956– ), U.S. business executive. As the first business manager hired by Bill Gates at the Microsoft Corporation, Ballmer, over 25 years with the computer giant, rose to become chief executive officer. In the process, he became one of the richest Jews in the world. Steven Anthony Ballmer was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of a Ford Motor Company employee. Shy as a child, he remembered hyperventilating before heading off to Hebrew school. His mother studied Hebrew with him. A scholarship student at Detroit Country Day School, he turned out to be a whiz in math, ranking in the top 10 among high school students on a statewide test. Thus he was able to fulfill his Protestant Swiss-born father's dream, a Harvard education. There he got his start as a leader, as manager of the football team, the student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, and the literary magazine. It was at Harvard that Ballmer met Gates; they lived at opposite ends of a dormitory floor. Their shared passions for math and science brought them together. In 1980 Gates persuaded Ballmer to drop out of Stanford University's business school to help run a fledgling Microsoft that was growing so fast it was nearly out of control. Gates valued Ballmer's management experience at Procter & Gamble, where he had helped market Duncan Hines cake mixes. Microsoft was then grossing $12.5 million in annual sales and had 43 employees. After taking over Windows in 1984, Ballmer drove engineers relentlessly to meet a launch deadline. But when Windows 1.0 was released, it flopped. It took Ballmer six more years to produce Windows 3.1, which took the world by storm. Ballmer played a classic role in tech start-ups: "He was the bottom-line–oriented grown-up," an article in the New York Times said, "who freed the computer nerds to focus on writing code." Gates was the code writer, Ballmer the hard-driving, charismatic, behind-the-scenes tactician, the arm twister and deal closer. Ballmer, and Microsoft, were highly competitive, and Ballmer was intimately   involved in the company's tough tactics. In 2000, at the age of 43, Ballmer became executive vice president of sales and support, where he drove all activities related to Microsoft's sales, support, and marketing, and president, responsible for broadening the leadership of the company and positioning it to take advantage of future growth opportunities. But Ballmer also became known for his blunt, aggressive style. By 2002, Microsoft had a stock market valuation of $250 billion, and Ballmer was one of the leading businessmen in the world. He was also instrumental in making more than 10,000 Microsoft employees millionaires through stock options. According to F.A. Maxwell's biography, which was unauthorized, Ballmer "didn't turn his back on his Jewish heritage, even when doing so might have benefited him." (Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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