Microsoft Corp. CEO and southeast Michigan native Steven Ballmer revisited an important stop along his path to incredible business success when he returned to Lawrence Technological University to accept an honorary doctorate in computer science and engineering during a special convocation on March 8.
See the video of Ballmer’s speech at this YouTube link.
Ballmer was the first business manager hired by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and led several divisions, including sales and support, before being named CEO in 2000.
Ballmer took college math courses at LTU from 1971 to 1973 while still a student at Detroit Country Day School in nearby Beverly Hills and also attended the Lawrence Tech Summer Science Institute for high school students.
In the convocation audience was LTU Associate Professor Michael Merscher, who taught Calculus 1 and 2 to Ballmer.
Ballmer said his advanced math training at Lawrence Tech helped him strike up a friendship with Gates, who lived down the hall when both of them entered Harvard with advanced sophomore standing. “We were math friends,” Ballmer said.
Ballmer was very emotional in his 10-minute speech during the ceremony in LTU’s Mary E. Marburger Science and Engineering Auditorium. He recalled how his mother drove him to his classes and even brought him back to campus to practice for the driver’s education test.
He said that he gained a great deal from his time at Lawrence Tech, and that experience made the doctorate he received even more significant. “It is really nice to be honored by people you respect. … So for me today this is a special honor,” he said.
He told the audience that there are five factors that can lead to personal success, the first and most important being luck. He alluded to his friendship with Gates as the result of good luck, but the example that he gave to illustrate the importance of luck was meeting LTU President Emeritus Richard Marburger, who was dean of LTU’s College of Arts and Sciences in 1971.
“It was not unheard of, but it was unusual for us at the time to accept a student still in high school,” recalled Marburger, who sat behind Ballmer during the ceremony. “However, Steve was clearly an unusually gifted student and that became even clearer when he earned A’s in each of our six most challenging mathematics classes.”
Ballmer said another key to success is energy, enthusiasm, and passion – personality traits for which he is well known.
A third key to success is insight into something useful. He said the best way to gain insight is to study and that what he learned at Lawrence Tech helped him find the path he wanted to take. “You have to know where you want to go,” he said.
Perseverance is another key for Ballmer, and he cited the example of passing his driver’s test after many hours of practice in the Lawrence Tech parking lot. “I must have driven around that parking lot about 700 times,” he said.
The last key to success that he mentioned was confidence, and once again he credited his experiences at Lawrence Tech with helping him gain confidence.
“I continue to have great confidence,” Ballmer said. “I work in an industry and I run company that can confidently say it’s going to continue to change the future. The amount of innovation that will come to market, that will allow people to do things they didn’t think they could do, to learn topics they didn’t think they could learn, to provide health care and social services to people that they never thought they could do, I am confident. I am confident in the innovation that our company can provide, in the sea of a world of great competition … I am confident in our ability to be a key contributor, an innovator, in an industry that absolutely and with 100 percent confidence that will continue to positively impact lives.”
In conferring the degree, LTU President Virinder Moudgil read from Ballmer’s citation, saying in part:
“As the leader of one of America’s – and the world’s – great enterprises, you have essentially helped build an entirely new industry and led the creation of innovative new methods for processing and conveying information and expanding the commerce so essential to strong and vibrant economies. You exemplify the creative spirit of inquiry and discovery that so often distinguishes what we admire in humankind in general and in Americans in particular.
“You have served with distinction in the leading ranks of what many call the ‘Global Village,’ made possible through the immediacy of the electronic age. You have provided the means that have helped people act – to communicate, to play, to move policy, to change priorities, to improve their lot, and to better the common good. …
“In recognition of your outstanding accomplishments and service to the people of our world and to the pursuit of knowledge, Lawrence Technological University is proud to confer this degree, honoris causa, with all the rights, privileges, and honors thereunto pertaining.”