Microsoft upbeat, shareholders less so
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer defends the company’s performance at the annual shareholders meeting in Bellevue.
Seattle Times technology reporter
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has been spending the last couple months trying to whip up enthusiasm for Windows 8 and a slew of other new products the company is counting on to maintain its relevance in computing.
On Wednesday, Ballmer tried to do so again with another audience: the company’s shareholders, not all of whom were enthusiastic.
The meeting at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue began with a demonstration of the various ways customers can use Microsoft’s revamped flagship operating system Windows 8 and Windows RT machines, including huge touch screens and laptops that can flip into tablets.
Ballmer then took the stage, saying: “It’s been a tremendously big year for us.”
He said 40 million Windows 8 licenses have been sold and that, “based on customer feedback, we know for sure people get it and like it.”
Several Windows 8 apps have reached more than a million downloads, he said.
In addition, sales of Windows Phone devices is four times what it was this time last year, he said. Ballmer did not, however, provide specific sales figures.
“We really are in a time of unprecedented opportunity,” he said.
The shareholders weren’t all sold, though.
During the question-and-answer period, several shareholders questioned what the company was doing to boost its share price, which has remained largely flat over the past decade. The stock closed at $27.36 a share Wednesday, up 28 cents.
“Why should I keep it?” one shareholder asked about her shares.
Ballmer cited increased sales, revenue and profit over the past decade, as well as the current lineup of strong, innovative products.
Several shareholders asked what the company was doing in terms of its competition — notably Apple — with one person asking how Microsoft would gauge its ability to get young people to hear the company’s message when they’re so focused on Apple.
“We sell a lot of devices,” said Ballmer, who added that most homework gets done on Office and most video games get played on Xbox. “We’ve delivered our best product line ever. We’re doing the most marketing we’ve done ever. I don’t think of it as a lost generation.”
Another shareholder raised questions about Microsoft’s proposal to pay the government in exchange for extra H-1B visas to hire qualified workers from other countries.
The proposal has raised concerns about the H-1B program as a whole.
Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said the U.S. economy is requiring 120,000 more people with computer-science degrees each year, while the universities are producing only 40,000 such people annually. He says Microsoft currently has 3,400 open engineering jobs — 34 percent more than a year ago.
The results of several shareholder votes were also announced during the meeting.
The nine members of the board of directors, chaired by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, were re-elected. An advisory vote on executive compensation was approved, as was an employee stock-purchase plan proposal. A shareholder proposal on cumulative voting was rejected.
Separately, Microsoft on Wednesday declared a quarterly dividend of 23 cents per share payable in March 14 to shareholders of record on Feb. 21.
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @janettu.