Ballmer hammers home Microsoft's 'high-value' strategy in final letter to shareholders

Unlike last year, no surprises in CEO's last letter to investors

In his last letter to shareholders before retiring, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer hammered on the same themes he and other executives struck three weeks ago in front of Wall Street analysts.

Among the strategies Ballmer outlined in his shareholder letter were the ongoing transformation of Microsoft to a "devices-and-services" company -- a massive turn from its history as a purveyor of packaged software -- and its continued reliance on enterprise sales to drive the firm's revenue.

This year's missive was not as revolutionary as 2012's, when Ballmer first publicly floated the idea of devices and services, saying, "It truly is a new era at Microsoft."

On Monday, Ballmer spelled out the corporation's mission statement with as much loquaciousness as when he spent 2,700 words this summer trumpeting the "One Microsoft" strategy and the resulting reorganization.

"We declared that Microsoft's focus going forward will be to create a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most," wrote Baller [emphasis in original].

Microsoft has used that phrasing before, as has Ballmer, including in his July letter to employees and on Sept. 19 when the company hosted a half-day event where executives spoke to Wall Street analysts.

The company has said that it plans to stick with the strategy swivel no matter who is appointed Ballmer's successor, a stance that has irritated some analysts but that was likely cemented when Microsoft announced last month that it would acquire parts of Finnish phone maker Nokia for $7.2 billion. "[The Nokia acquisition] will accelerate our growth with Windows Phone while strengthening our overall device ecosystem and our opportunity," Ballmer promised shareholders Monday.

Ballmer also said that Microsoft would rely on its strength -- its dominance in the enterprise -- to generate revenue, putting consumer services as a step-child for, and step toward, commercial wins.

"We will primarily monetize our high-value activities by leading with devices and enterprise services," Ballmer said. "In this model, our consumer services such as Bing and Skype will differentiate our devices and serve as an on-ramp to our enterprise services while generating some revenue from subscriptions and advertising."

"High-value" was a buzzword Ballmer used repeatedly in his letter -- seven times altogether -- and more often than he wrote "employees" (1), "strategy" (6), "customers" (3), or "family of devices" (3), the watchword of his July memo.

Ballmer word cloud
A word cloud based on Ballmer's letter to shareholders shows the emphasis on "devices," "services" and "high-value." (Image: Tagxedo.com.)
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