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Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer was once Bill Gates’ assistant, now he’s the 6th richest person in the world. Here are his 5 tips for success

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Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer turns 68 years old today, and the sixth richest person in the world has a lot to celebrate.

With a net worth of about $148 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Ballmer is now just shy of overtaking his old boss, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who sits at $154 billion.  

A look back at Ballmer’s illustrious career reveals the secrets behind his success, but it wasn’t always so glamorous. At 24, Ballmer dropped out of Stanford Business School to join Microsoft and Gates, his former Harvard classmate. As the company’s 30th employee, Ballmer netted a base salary of $50,000

The small tech startup quickly became one America’s fastest-growing companies, overtaking the incumbent Apple and dominating the growth of personal computers in the 1990s by developing Windows, an easy-to-use operating system. Ballmer took over for Gates during a key moment of transition, in 2000, managing through the aftermath of a famous antitrust case that dated back to 1998, as well as the aftermath of the dot-com crash and the emergence of fierce competition from rivals both new and old: Google and Apple. 

Ballmer tripled Microsoft’s annual revenue to nearly $78 billion during his tenure, and profits swelled to $22 billion during his last full fiscal year as CEO, but the stock didn’t reflect its dominance. In retrospect, Ballmer set the stage for a stunning comeback in the decades since. Microsoft now ranks 13th on the Fortune 500, while its market capitalization has conquered all others: It’s the most valuable company in the world, at $3.2 trillion. 

Ballmer still holds an estimated 4.5% stake in Microsoft, and has seen its value soar even further, following his successor Satya Nadella’s bet on OpenAI. In 2021, Ballmer became the ninth person in the world to report a net worth of more than $100 billion, and Ballmer is the only centibillionaire to make his fortune as an employee, not as an entrepreneur. 

After thanking employees for the “time of my life” in an emotional farewell presentation in 2014, Ballmer set his sights on other entrepreneurial adventures. The same year, he bought the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion (Forbes now values the franchise at over $4.5 billion). 

Since leaving Microsoft, Ballmer has leaned heavily into philanthropy. He donated nearly $2 billion to a donor-advised Goldman Sachs Philanthropy fund focused on economic mobility in 2018. More recently, he invested $400 million to support Black-owned businesses in 2022; $43 million in the early childhood education workforce in Washington State last March; and last September he announced a $175 million investment over the next seven years, aimed at helping 4 million young people, especially in communities of color who face systemic inequalities, along the path to economic mobility. 

In one of his final interviews as Microsoft’s CEO in 2013, Ballmer sat down with Fortune to share some of his biggest tips for success. 

  1. Take a look at the big picture

“If the CEO doesn’t see the playing field, nobody else can,” Ballmer said in the 2013 interview with Fortune. “The team may need to see it too, but the CEO really needs to be able to see the entire competitive space.”

Microsoft’s variety of products, like cloud services and personal computing, touch a lot of different markets and competition seems to lurk around every corner. During his stint as CEO, he faced criticism for not adapting quickly enough to changing market trends. Competitors in mobile devices, like Samsung and Nokia, and cloud computing services, like Google and Apple, were on the rise. Microsoft’s stock was stagnating in the years leading to his retirement in 2014. Still, Microsoft’s revenue nearly quadrupled under his watch.

  1. Always look for talent 

While at Microsoft, Ballmer hired some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, like Steven Sinofksy, who headed Windows; J Allard, who served as chief technology officer of Xbox; and Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect. 

In a 2009 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Ballmer said in order “to be dynamic,” companies should aim to promote internal workers “70% or 80% of the time,” and when a company wants to take on outside hires, they should be “open-minded” and ask for references. 

In interviews for potential new hires, the two biggest qualities he looks for are passion that he “can see in the eyes,” and someone he can relate to. One of his favorite questions to ask is “tell me about something you’re proud of.” 

  1. Always reconsider–that’s how to find the most successful business model 

At Microsoft, the name of Ballmer’s game was rethink, rethink, rethink. 

“There was a day when people said all the money is in software; get out of hardware,” he told Fortune in 2013. Hardware was what Apple and Samsung, Microsoft’s biggest rivals at the time, were also profitable in. In 2013, Apple recorded 170.9 billion in revenue. Google recorded $55.5 billion. “Then somebody will say, ‘oh, it’s all about advertising,’” which is what its rival, Google, was making bank on. 

“The playing field is always changing,” he said, and the sentiment holds true in his current endeavors on the basketball court. 

A decade after buying the Clippers, Ballmer is still thinking creatively about how to revamp the franchise. He’s been signing–and retaining–superstars like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook to form a quartet of stars in preparation for the Intuit Dome grand opening in August, Forbes reported, the team’s future home court and the setting of the 2026 NBA All-Star weekend.

This month, he launched a new brand, Halo Sports and Entertainment, which will feature the new dome, the LA Clippers, their G-league affiliate team called the Ontario Clippers, and KIA Forum, a music and entertainment arena in Inglewood, which he purchased in 2020

  1. Plan for the short term and long term

“Getting the big things right that make all the money, that’s long cycle,” Ballmer told Fortune in 2013, emphasizing that “really executing in a way that allows you to do it, that’s short cycle.”

One of the long-term projects he’s chipped away at is USAFacts, a database that collects and analyzes how federal, state and local governments generate revenue and spend money. The database also includes reports users can run to gather information on topics ranging from tax rates to rates of overdoses and crime across the country. 

The site brands itself as a “non-partisan, not-for-profit civic initiative,” with no “political agenda or commercial motive.”

  1. Know where you fall short 

“I obviously understand the business stuff better than the technology stuff,” Ballmer concluded in the 2013 interview, but adding, “I’ve grown, and when you grow, you say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.’”

One joke theory related to his limitations has cropped up: it’s what Urban Dictionary calls the Ballmer Peak, or the “theory that computer programmers obtain quasi-magical, superhuman coding ability when they have a blood alcohol concentration percentage between 0.129% and 0.138%.” The theory is loosely tied to Ballmer—but has inspired a San Francisco organization, Originate, to organize a Ballmer Peak-A-Thon: an open bar event where people have “5 hours to find the elusive Ballmer peak, and build the best worst business possible.” The bar provides “plenty of sill domain names” to kick off the party.

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United Airlines (UAL) 1Q 2024 earnings

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A United Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft lands at San Francisco International Airport.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

United Airlines on Tuesday cut its aircraft-delivery expectations for the year as it grapples with delays from Boeing, the latest airline to face growth challenges because of the plane-maker’s safety crisis.

United expects to receive just 61 new narrow-body planes this year, down from 101 it said it had expected at the beginning of the year and contracts for as many as 183 planes in 2024.

“We’ve adjusted our fleet plan to better reflect the reality of what the manufacturers are able to deliver,” CEO Scott Kirby said in an earnings release. “And, we’ll use those planes to capitalize on an opportunity that only United has: profitably grow our mid-continent hubs and expand our highly profitable international network from our best in the industry coastal hubs.”

United said it plans to lease 35 Airbus A321neos in 2026 and 2027, turning to Boeing’s rival for new planes as the U.S. manufacturer faces caps on its production and increased federal scrutiny. In January, United said it was taking Boeing’s not-yet-certified Max 10 out of its fleet plan. The airline said it has converted some Max 10 planes for Max 9s.

It lowered its annual capital expenditure estimate to $6.5 billion from about $9 billion.

United is also facing a Federal Aviation Administration safety review, which has prevented some of its planned growth. A spokeswoman told CNBC earlier this month that the carrier will have to postpone its planned service from Newark, New Jersey, to Faro, Portugal, and service between Tokyo and Cebu, Philippines.

United earlier this month postponed its investor day, which was scheduled for May, “because our entire team is focused on cooperating with the FAA to review our safety protocols and it would simply send the wrong message to our team to have an exciting investor day focused primarily on financial results.”

The airline said it would have reported a profit for the quarter if not for a $200 million hit from the temporary grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 9 in January.

The FAA temporarily grounded those jets after a door plug blew out minutes into an Alaska Airlines flight, sparking a new safety crisis for Boeing and slowing deliveries of its planes to customers including United, Southwest and others.

The airline posted a net loss of $124 million, or a loss of 38 cents a share, in the first quarter compared with a $194 million loss, or 59 cents, a year earlier. Revenue rose nearly 10% in the first quarter compared with the year-earlier period to $12.54 billion, with capacity up more than 9% on the year.

Here’s what United reported in the first quarter compared with what Wall Street expected, based on average estimates compiled by LSEG:

  • Loss per share: 15 cents adjusted vs. a loss of 57 cents expected
  • Revenue: $12.54 billion vs. $12.45 billion expected

The airline expects to post earnings of between $3.75 and $4.25 in the second quarter, ahead of analysts’ estimates of about $3.76 a share. Airlines make the bulk of their profits in the second and third quarters, during peak travel season.

The carrier also reiterated its full-year earnings forecast of between $9 and $11 a share.

United’s shares were up more than 4% in after-hours trading on Tuesday.

United executives will hold a call with analysts at 10:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday.

Don’t miss these exclusives from CNBC PRO

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Ex-Post Office boss regrets ‘missed opportunity’ to halt Horizon scandal

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“On reflection, and I have reflected on this very hard, when I finished being the Horizon programme director [in early 2000] it would have been very beneficial if I had notified both the lawyers and the [investigations team] that Horizon was a new system coming in, and that they should be very cautious about evidence coming out of that system,” he said.

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Sri Lanka’s economic crisis and debt restructuring efforts By Reuters

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COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s government rejected a proposal from its international bondholders on Tuesday on restructuring the more than $12 billion the country owes to them.

It means a near two-year spell in default will drag on for Sri Lanka and that the country’s next tranche of vital IMF support money could potentially get delayed.

Below is a timeline of the key events in the crisis and the efforts to resolve it:

2021-2022: Sri Lanka’s economy crumbles after years of overspending leaves its foreign exchange reserves critically low and the government unable to pay for essentials, such as fuel and medicine.

The country’s bonds suffer from multiple downgrades by credit rating agencies warning of the increasing risk of default. At the start of 2022 it manages to make a $500 million bond payment but it leaves its foreign exchange reserves precariously low.

MAY, 2022 – Sri Lanka is declared in default after it fails to make a smaller $78 million bond coupon payment.

JULY, 2022 – Public anger drives protesters to storm then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office and residence. Rajapaksa flees to the Maldives, before moving on to Singapore.

Current President Ranil Wickremesinghe is voted into power by Sri Lankan lawmakers.

MARCH, 2023 – The International Monetary Fund approves a near $3 billion bailout for Sri Lanka after talks with Wickremesinghe’s government and assurances about its plans to repair the country’s finances.

OCTOBER, 2023

Sri Lanka announces an agreement with China’s EXIM (export/import) Bank to delay payments on about $4.2 billion worth of loans the Chinese lender it has extended to the country.

NOVEMBER, 2023

Other creditor nations including India, Japan and France agree to restructure about $5.9 billion in debt.

MARCH, 2024

A group of Sri Lankan officials arrives in London to meet with a number of investment funds that hold its more than $12 billion worth of government bonds. Talks advance to the key “restricted” phase where proposals are discussed privately and those involved agree not to buy or sell any of the debt on the open market.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A general view of the main business district as rain clouds gather above in Colombo, Sri Lanka, November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo

APRIL, 2024

The government rejects a proposal tabled by the bondholders. The main stumbling blocks are that some the “baseline” assumptions used differ to those of the IMF and that the plan did not include a contingency option for the government in case the economy fails to recover as expected.



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