Geertjan's Blog

  • April 30, 2009

"The day I met Steve Ballmer"

Geertjan Wielenga
Product Manager
I find the English-language newspapers in Egypt endlessly fascinating. Though written in perfectly fine English, they show such a cultural contrast to what I'm used to reading about, that it's always, well, fascinating. (In another blog entry I'll mention the many interesting newspaper articles around mobile phones, which really show the clash of modern/ancient worlds in Egypt.)

Anyway, here's another one that deserves to be quoted in full (from the same page where I quoted the article in yesterday's blog entry). It seems that if I'm not quoting these for the world to see, no one else is going to do so, so consider this a free service. (Not sure who it serves though! Possibly Steve Ballmer himself, who is very unlikely to have read this article. In fact, I'd put money on it that he hasn't read it.)

So, here it is, read and be fascinated, from page 6 of "The Egyptian Gazette", dated Wednesday, 29 April 2009, by Marwa Moneer, with all the paragraphing and punctuation exactly as in the original:

The day I met Steve Ballmer

Ever since mid-March 2009, Egyptian newspapers have been talking about the visit that Microsoft's chief executive officer Steve Ballmer will pay to Egypt.

I was surprised to see all this attention paid to a man's visit to the country. I am not claiming that Ballmer is not an important figure; in fact, he's a prominent ICT professional expert. But again, why would his visit be so important? Another stunning fact was that Ballmer was welcomed by Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, Egypt's First Lady; Prime Minister Ahmed Nazeif; as well as Tareq Kamel, the minister of ICT; and Ahmed Darwish, the Minister of State for Administrative Development.

I was so curious to meet him and wanted to find out all the mystery around him. For that particular reason, I attended Microsoft's Innovation Day that was held last week.

The moment Ballmer started his speech, I realised how incredibly modest he is. He started his speech by telling the audience that he went out, sight-seeing at 6am and was running all the way along the Nile Corniche, got his ankle twisted and fell down! The attendees laughed, which made me think, if any Egyptian businessman would say such a thing in front of such a huge audience. Of course, not, because simply we prefer to convey the image of being perfect.

Ballmer's speech was so interesting for me and for all the attendees. It revealed how talented this man is. Although he was not reading from a previously prepared script (unlike what we normally see with most Egyptian business leaders), his speech was so smooth, catchy, funny and full of good information as well.

Another remarkable note was by the end of his speech. He gave out his e-mail address to all the attendees, and assured them that he believed in social networking and would really love to hear from them. Although he clearly said that he did not promise to get back to them in 24 hours, he promised to get back to whoever sent him an e-mail as soon as he could.

Again that was an amazing step from his part that made me wonder: Why do the major Egyptian business leaders keep their details anonymous? Of course, this has nothing to do with the fact that they are busy or anything because Ballmer, in spite of all his responsibilities and concerns, assured us that he believed in social networking.

This only clarifies the fact that there is something wrong with our culture. We have been brought up with something in our minds telling us that the successful businessman should be arrogant, unreachable and tough. The thing which Ballmer has proved to be completely wrong!

This makes me wonder: How many Steve Ballmers do we have in Egypt? Few I believe!

Pure enjoyment to read that article. :-) Steve Ballmer, hands on hips, bellowing something or other, in a large photograph on the same page... described as 'modest', among other things. Very wonderful.

On the other hand, what it does indicate is that for a business leader to show a "human" side is something quite uncommon in some cultures, while it is quite natural in others. And, in the latter cultures, it tends to not be considered "human", but "too much information" or "irrelevant drivel".

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Comments ( 5 )
  • Martin Wildam Thursday, April 30, 2009


    What would they say after a speech of one of the big lights in the Java world?

  • Geertjan Thursday, April 30, 2009

    Well, to begin with, are there ANY big lights in the Java world? Apart from well known engineers (from Sun, from SpringSource, etc etc), I don't think there are any execs (i.e., non-technical staff) in the Java world of a similar stature to Steve Ballmer. (Aside from, perhaps, Scott McNealy.) And long may it stay that way!

  • Martin Wildam Thursday, April 30, 2009

    Oh, I didn't think about non-technical staff and not on a particular person - maybe Ed Burns (this is the only well known person from Sun that I do know personally).

    But most of the guys I have seen doing speeches I enjoyed very much.

  • John Friday, May 1, 2009

    It is refreshing to see an article that did not bash Microsoft mindlessly.

  • Marwa Moneer Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    I'm totally impressed, I never thought that someone from outside Egypt would possibly read my page!

    Thank you, and by the way Steve Ballmer read the article and sent me a thank you email! which again shows how wonderful and lovely he is.

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