Steve Ballmer began his career at Microsoft as an assistant earning $50,000 per year; today, he is worth $92 billion.
Aspiring billionaires could take a cue from Steve Ballmer’s career. Ballmer rose from humble beginnings to become one of the world’s ten richest people. When Ballmer was 24, he dropped out of Stanford’s MBA program to join a new company founded by his Harvard classmate Bill Gates. That company, of course, was Microsoft. Ballmer began his career at Microsoft as Gates’ assistant, earning only $50,000 per year. His parents were understandably concerned about his decision.
Ballmer was a straight-A student. He was the valedictorian of his high school class, a Harvard graduate with honors, and a Stanford MBA student. So his decision to drop out of his MBA program after a year to work for a computer company in 1980, at the dawn of the personal computer revolution, was contentious.
His parents had no idea what software was or why anyone in their home needed a computer. If things didn’t work out at Microsoft, he said he’d return to his MBA program. Needless to say, he was never required to finish his MBA.
Ballmer began as Gates’ right-hand man, earning $50,000 per year. He established the company’s accounting and human resources departments. In addition to his $50,000 salary (equivalent to $166k today), Steve received 8% equity in Microsoft and 10% of any profit growth he generated.
Ballmer’s most valuable skill was knowing how to manage Gates, who was notorious for not delegating anything. When IBM approached Microsoft in 1980 for assistance in developing an operating system for its personal computers, Ballmer attended the meeting and helped close the deal that would eventually place Microsoft’s software on every IBM computer sold.
Ballmer was promoted and given increasingly prestigious job titles until 1998 when Gates asked Ballmer to become Microsoft’s president. Ballmer was appointed CEO two years later. He led Microsoft through the dot-com bust and the infamous anti-trust battle. He also launched the Xbox, bought Skype, and established the company’s $20 billion enterprise business.
That’s not to say he didn’t make mistakes—he didn’t jump on the smartphone bandwagon, and he famously mocked the iPhone. He then went on to buy Nokia for $7 billion in 2013, long after Apple and Google had dominated the market with iPhones and Android devices.
After 34 years as CEO of Microsoft, Ballmer stepped down in 2014. By this point, he owned roughly 4% of the company. Steve Ballmer has a net worth of… as of this writing, thanks to that 4% stake and other investments.
That makes him the eighth richest person on the planet. In 2014, Ballmer fulfilled another of his lifelong ambitions by purchasing the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team for $2 billion. It was his third attempt to acquire a team. In 2008, he was passed over by the Seattle Sonics, and in 2012, he was passed over by the Sacramento Kings.
Ballmer can now be found on the sidelines of Clippers games with a big smile on his face. Ballmer’s next project is to find a new home for his Los Angeles Clippers. He paid $400 million for the Forum in 2020 and intends to build a new, more than $1 billion home for his NBA team.
Overall, not bad for a guy who started as an assistant making $50,000!
His Property Management
Ballmer reportedly paid $9.8 million in 2020 for a home in Hunts Point, Washington. The historic home was built in 1902 and has 3,790 square feet of living space on one acre of land. This was not Steve Ballmer’s first investment in Seattle real estate. He and his wife, Connie, paid $1.325 million for another nearby home in 1987. The property’s value has risen dramatically since then, with a reported value of more than $12 million in 2020.
In addition, Ballmer paid $400 million for the Forum in Inglewood in 2020. The Los Angeles Lakers previously played at the Forum before moving to the Staples Center. The Clippers are currently playing at the Staples Center, but once Ballmer redevelops the Forum, they will be able to return to their home court.
Ballmer’s purchase was calculated because another NBA team owner, James Dolan, had been preventing Ballmer from building a separate arena nearby. Dolan’s company, MSG, purchased the Forum in 2012 for $23.5 million. Ballmer paved the way for a brand new, 18,000-seat stadium with all the latest amenities after successfully purchasing Dolan’s stake in the Forum. This new stadium will cost more than $1 billion to build and is set to open in 2024.