Citing the stagnant stock performance of Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) over the past decade, hedge fund manager David Einhorn publicly called for CEO Steven A. Ballmer to step down and "give someone else a chance."
While the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index has gained 34% over the past 10 years, Microsoft has slumped 25%.
Ballmer was named CEO in January 2000.
"His continued presence is the biggest overhang on Microsoft's stock," said Einhorn, who gained notoriety after betting against Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (PINK: LEHMQ) four months before its collapse in 2008.
Signs of Microsoft's fall from the pinnacle of the tech mountain have become more apparent in the past year. Long-time rival Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) passed Microsoft in market capitalization last year; earlier this week International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) briefly did as well.
"Ballmer's problem is that he's stuck in the past," Einhorn said. "He's allowed competitors to beat Microsoft in huge areas, including search, mobile-communications software, tablet computing and social networking. Even worse, his response to these failures has been to pour tremendous resources into efforts to develop his way out of these holes."
At one point, Einhorn even compared Ballmer to the hapless Peanuts character Charlie Brown.
Einhorn is just the latest voice to knock Ballmer. Analysts, shareholders and pundits in the tech press have been criticizing his leadership for years.
But the longer Microsoft's stock languishes, the louder the criticism has become.
After Microsoft announced the $8.5 billion deal to acquire Skype earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal's Evan Newmark wrote in his "Mean Streets" column: "With Skype, Ballmer isn't just guilty of poor timing or overpaying. It's worse. He's guilty of putting Microsoft into a position where it is compelled to buy companies like Yahoo and Skype that nobody else really wants."
Even his employees have begun to lose faith in him. Glassdoor.com, which has conducted CEO approval surveys at tech companies for the past two years, shows Ballmer's approval rating sliding from the high 50s in 2009 to 46% in March of this year.
And the Microsoft board gave Ballmer a slap on the wrist last fall by giving him only half of his potential bonus, citing "the unsuccessful launch of the Kin phone; loss of market share in the company's mobile phone business; and the need for the Company to pursue innovations to take advantage of new form factors."
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