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TheStreet Open House

The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week: Jan. 25

1. Ballmer's Drama

The entire investing world watched Apple's (AAPL - Get Report) stock get scalped this week and wondered if CEO Tim Cook can right the ship after the iPad maker's disappointing fiscal first-quarter results. Nevertheless, we here at the 5 Dumbest Lab had our eyes on a different, and equally as large, scalp.

Steve Ballmer's, of course!

Come on. With all the juicy stuff being written about Microsoft's (MSFT - Get Report) CEO this week, how could we not take our eye off the Apple ball and focus on Ballmer for a while?

"Is he a great CEO? I don't think so," former Microsoft insider Joachim Kempin told Reuters Tuesday. "They need somebody maybe 35-40 years old, a younger person who understands the Facebook generation and this mobile community. They don't need this guy on stage with this fierce, aggressive look, announcing the next version of Windows and thinking he can score with that."

Kempin, who worked in sales at Microsoft between 1983 and 2002 and had direct access to founder Bill Gates, spills the beans about Ballmer in a new book titled Resolve and Fortitude: Microsoft's ''Secret Power Broker'' Breaks His Silence. Kempin, for those who may have forgotten, was called upon as a witness to defend the so-called "evil empire" during the government's antitrust onslaught against the company. He left as a result of his testimony in 2002, two years after Ballmer replaced Gates atop the software giant.

In the book, Kempin alleges that Ballmer has ruthlessly kneecapped potential rivals since grabbing the CEO position, starting with the 2002 ouster of Richard Belluzzo, Microsoft's former chief operating officer and the man credited with successfully launching the Xbox game console.

"He (Belluzzo) had no room to breathe on the top. When you work that directly with Ballmer and Ballmer believes 'maybe this guy could someday take over from me,' my God, you will have less air to breathe, that's what it comes down to," Kempin told Reuters.

Following Belluzzo out the door during Ballmer's rein have been former Windows chief Steve Sinofsky, online head Kevin Johnson, Office chief Stephen Elop and software guru Ray Ozzie.

"Ozzie is a great software guy, he knew what he was doing. But when you see Steve (Ballmer) and him on stage where he (Ozzie) opposed Steve, it was Steve's way or the highway," said Kempin.

Oh, man. If only Shakespeare lived to see Seattle, he could have done a number on the hardnosed power plays at Mister Softee. We can hear the Bard now: My kingdom for a tablet!

Look: We are well aware that Kempin was no shrinking violet when all this madness was going on. You don't get to be known as Bill Gates' "enforcer" for nothing. And we also know there is nothing like a tell-all book for score-settling.

That said, while sales and profits have grown through Ballmer's tenure at the top, a quick scan of Microsoft's stock price shows that investors have long been unrewarded. Microsoft's chart is so flat you can practically skate on it. And the real or imaginary foes Steve has sent packing to save his own skin have only highlighted that fact.

Mark our words, Steve, we expect more Kempins to come out of Microsoft's woodwork now that the ice has been broken. So get ready to rumble, and while you do, keep this in mind: Simply because the world has been captivated by the recent turmoil in Apple's stock doesn't mean it has forgotten about the unmemorable returns of yours.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.
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