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Former CEO Ballmer, Activist Jesse Jackson Enliven Microsoft Meeting

Steve Ballmer, the famously loud former CEO, chatted warmly with Jackson before and after the meeting but did not ask any questions during.

Jason Redmond / Reuters

Former Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson livened up the technology company’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, grabbing the spotlight from the current leaders on stage.

Ballmer, who retired as CEO in February but is still the company’s biggest individual shareholder, sat next to Jackson in the second row of the Meydenbauer Center here, filled with about 400 shareholders. He chatted warmly with Jackson before and after the meeting, surrounded by well-wishers and photographers.

The famously loud former executive, who had several clashes with the board in his 14 years as CEO, and left his job under pressure from activist shareholders, did not ask any questions at the meeting.

“As a block shareholder, the company regularly reaches out. I didn’t need to use the time today,” Ballmer told Reuters after the meeting. Ballmer stepped down from Microsoft’s board in August to focus on his $2 billion purchase of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers.

Shareholders asked the new CEO, Satya Nadella, and other leaders, about Microsoft’s efforts to help blind and disabled customers and about online security. The executives only fleetingly addressed Microsoft’s business and financial strategy.

Shareholders have been generally ecstatic this year as Microsoft’s market value shot up almost $100 billion since Nadella took over from Ballmer in February. That is partly due to the strong rise in stocks indexes, but also helped by Nadella soothing restless investors with a string of bold moves designed to haul the software behemoth into the mobile, cloud-computing era.

“It was a clear difference from years past as Nadella and Microsoft are more comfortable in their market positioning, growth, and strategy, given the success they have had in 2014 versus the dark days of the Ballmer era,” said Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets who watched the meeting via webcast.

Jackson, who met with Nadella this week, asked the company to step up its efforts to create a more diverse workforce. According to the company’s latest data, its more than 100,000-strong workforce is 71 percent male and 61 percent Caucasian.

“It’s time the board of directors and C-suites and workforce transform themselves to look like the new America,” Jackson said during the question-and-answer session, urging Microsoft to do more to hire and promote women and minorities.

Nadella, who is Indian-born and Chairman John Thompson, who is African-American, assured Jackson the issue was important to the company.

(Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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