A prominent U.S. corporate leader, Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer, says he plans to retire within the next year.
The 57-year-old Ballmer has led the world's biggest software company since 2000, when he succeeded Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Ballmer said Friday there "is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time."
He said a new Microsoft chief is needed while the company transitions toward a focus on the sale of technology devices and services. Microsoft has been hugely profitable, but it faces significant competition in the market for computer tablets and smartphones. The company has struggled in an era of declining sales for personal computers that have long been powered by Microsoft's well-known Windows software.
Shares of Microsoft stock advanced more than 7 percent on news of Ballmer's retirement.
Microsoft did not name a successor, and Ballmer plans to stay at the company until his replacement is found.
Ballmer and Gates first met in 1973 when they lived down the hall from each other in a Harvard University dormitory. Ballmer joined Microsoft in 1980, led several of its divisions over the last three decades and became one of Gates's chief advisers before succeeding him.
Bloomberg News says Ballmer is the 47th richest person in the world, with a $16 billion fortune.