Steve Ballmer boasts profitability, reveals personal living room push in Microsoft exit interview

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With Steve Ballmer's days left at Microsoft dwindling down, the outgoing CEO has participated in a new interview reflecting on his legacy, in which he boasts how profitable he made the company's business, and takes credit for the company's buzz-generating, but not particularly profitable, Xbox division.

Ballmer sat down for an interview with journalist Mary Jo Foley, who spoke with Microsoft's soon-to-depart chief executive for an exit interview with Fortune. In the discussion, Ballmer was particularly proud of the fact that he managed to double Microsoft's profits and triple its revenues under his watch — a triumph he compared to Apple's own recent success.

"In the last five years, probably Apple has made more money than we have," Ballmer said. "But in the last 13 years, I bet we've made more money than almost anybody on the planet. And that, frankly, is a great source of pride to me."

The CEO also took credit for Microsoft's major push into the living room over the last 12 years with its Xbox franchise. This year marks its largest endeavor yet, with the launch of the new Xbox One gaming console, which Microsoft announced on Wednesday has sold 2 million units since it debuted last month.

While the Xbox has earned buzz in the console gaming market and sold tens of millions of units, it's mostly been a money losing operation for Microsoft. In particular, high failure rates with the Xbox 360 console cost the company over a billion dollars.

"I believe in accountability," Ballmer said. "I'm in. I'm accountable. I'll make this work — not that I had to drive it — but we had some bumps in the road. And it was important that I stay accountable, stay patient, and stay behind the decision that we made."

He also insisted that he's leaving Microsoft better than he found it, with the Redmond, Wash., company now "more focused" after his tenure. He attributed that to Microsoft falling from being a "complete leader" to a "leader and a challenger." Challengers, he said, have to be more focused to stay alive.

Ballmer announced his plans to retire from Microsoft in August, bringing to an end his 13-year reign over the software giant. The search for his successor remains ongoing.

He held his final company meeting in September, where he told 13,000 full-time employees in attendance that Microsoft has "unbelievable potential" in front of it. He also used the opportunity to take a few swipes at rival Apple, which he said is focused on being "fashionable," while Microsoft, he said, is about "doing more."

In recent years, Microsoft has seen poor performances of flagship products like Windows 8 — disappointments that led to a pay cut for Ballmer in his final months at the company. Critics say Microsoft has failed to adapt to the modern mobile age, while Apple has found considerable success with its iPhone and iPad lineups.


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