Steve Ballmer to Teach at Stanford and USC


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It’s been a bittersweet month for former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Fresh off his $2 billion dollar purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers, Balllmer resigned from Microsoft’s Board of Directors on August 19th after 34 years with the company.

While referring to Microsoft as his “life’s work” and promising to “support and encourage boldness by management,” his letter also included a surprising nugget: “I see a combination of the Clippers, civic contribution, teaching and studying taking a lot of time.”


In Ballmer’s case, you can go home again. Despite dropping out of the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1980 to become Bill Gates’ 30th employee, Ballmer is returning to his alma mater. Stanford confirms that Ballmer will teach STRAMGT 588 (Leading Organizations) alongside Susan Athey, a Professor of Economics whose research interests include the internet economics, platform markets, online advertising, and big data.

Talk about a fit! Just read how Stanford GSB describes STRAMGT588:

“This course studies principles for leading organizations and creating business value from the perspective of a high-level executive. Topics include product development, business models and pricing, people management, time allocation, measurement and accountability, creative destruction, the development of new capabilities, and marketing.”

Athey tells Business Insider that the course will heavily focus on looking at value creation from “different managerial functions and providing a theoretical conceptual framework and filling that in with real world examples of experiences.”

The Leading Organizations course will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., running from September 22nd to October 21st. 80 students are already enrolled. While the course syllabi is not yet available, the peanut gallery is probably already clamoring for case studies on Windows Vista and display ads. And you can almost picture Ballmer cringing during discussions on the emergence of mobile technologies and iPods.

Alas, hindsight is 20/20. Sure, Ballmer was outflanked by Google and Apple during his tenure. Despite healthy profits, Microsoft’s stock price languished as its brand blurred. Still, he captained the ship through a tech bubble and an outright economic collapse. And he buffeted the company against the creative destruction that upended PC giants like Hewlett Package and Dell. Ballmer was no visionary. He was a nuts-and-bolts, rough-around-the-edges, back-slapping and butt-kicking sales manager who was better suited to being a #2. He may have cackled as the iPhone Trojan horse rolled passed his gates, but he was courageous enough to launch the brutal shift to services.

It was a mixed legacy, but a legacy nonetheless. He carries heavy regrets, but only because he bore great responsibility. In other words, he is a perfect teacher for the next generation of high tech hotshots.

And that will be Ballmer’s role at Stanford, providing flesh-and-blood immediacy in his practitioner -scholar pairing with Athey.  And Athey, who was hired in a consulting role with Microsoft during Ballmer’s tenure, is thrilled to have her former boss on board.

“Steve is completely intellectually engaged and he’s really intense and he brings such a wealth of knowledge,” Athey tells Business Insider. “The fact he was at Microsoft when it was a small company and he had many leadership roles from the early days, watching the company grow…I think it’s going to be terrific to get this interaction between Steve and the students.”

Along with teaching at Stanford this fall, Ballmer will migrate south for the winter, teaching a yet-unnamed course at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. Considering the school’s prowess in sales education, we can only pray to see Ballmer running role plays with Marshall’s best-and-brightest.

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