So Steve Ballmer is leaving Microsoft. After serving as CEO of the software goliath for over 13 years the big question is really a couple of Whats? What happened and what’s going to happen. With the speed of a nanosecond, the pundits came forth with a myriad of takes on this shift in the corporate landscape up in Redmond. F’sure there is no shortage of theories behind Mr. B’s departure.

Was it because he lost the support of Bill Gates? Or, was it due to his lack of leadership? Hell, just last year Forbes rated him “the worst CEO of a large publicly traded American company”. Not something you want on your resume. From keeping Microsoft out of lucrative tech markets like tablets, and rolling out the disastrous Vista, his missteps are many and monumental. Surely, there are reasons aplenty for his leaving and opportunities for improvement so it will be interesting to see how the drama of replacing him plays out.

Steve_Ballmer_at_CES_2010But there’s something common to what happened to Microsoft and Steve Ballmer and it’s the real reason for why the once brilliant company is presently fumbling on Wall Street as well in its own backyard; the tech industry. The problem rests with its very own success. Andrew “Andy” Grove, former CEO of Intel put it succinctly when he observed that “success breeds complacency and complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” In a word, Microsoft became ‘complacent’ and is at risk of following in the footsteps of the American automotive giants who failed to foresee what their customers wanted and/or needed.

By its very nature, competition is always fierce especially when the stakes are high and there’s a good number of companies that have suffered the fate of corporate complacency. In fact, Microsoft took advantage of such a situation when IBM failed to see the PC Computer trend and allowed its leadership to be compromised by the new reality being defined by Microsoft. That’s why it’s all the more ironic to see what has happened to this once inventive and innovative company.

Granted, Bill Gates is a tough act to follow and staying ahead of a rapidly changing environment like technology is no easy task, Ballmer’s attitude of disdain didn’t help matters. In one of his classic fits of absurdity he dismissed the competition with remarking that “Google’s not a real company. It’s a house of cards.”

Hopefully, with his departure the company can regain some of its former inventiveness and embrace a bit of Grove’s “paranoia”. Without a change of attitude and course of action, the once and mighty “house that Gates built” will surely fall further into disrepair. History has proved that being big doesn’t always save the day. Just ask those at GM and IBM.