The public knows only one version of Steve Ballmer: the blustery salesman, sweating and booming away and trying to rally Microsoft employees or win over investors. It’s not our fault that we think of Ballmer in this way; it’s his. He put on so many of these performances that he turned into a caricature. Yet, when you hear Ballmer reflect on his cheerleader persona, you know the public image of the man is incomplete.
“What’s the old existentialist saying?” he asks me while we talk in a small office at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “A man is the sum total of his actions. Even back through high school, when we first started to study this, I began to really believe it. This wasn’t ‘I think therefore I am,’ like the Cartesians. You’re accountable for what you do. You’re not accountable for what you thought. You’re not accountable for what you recommended. You’re accountable for what you actually got done.”