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He was Microsoft's 30th employee, its first business manager and CEO for over a decade. Now, after 34 years with the company, Steve Ballmer is leaving Microsoft behind. In a letter to Satya Nadella, Microsoft's new CEO, Ballmer explained that he's leaving the company's board of directors effective immediately. "I have become very busy," he explains. "I see a combination of Clippers, civic contribution, teaching and study taking up a lot of time." It's not a surprising development -- owning an NBA franchise is a pretty big responsibility, after all -- but it marks the end of Ballmer's decades-long influence over the company. Despite his departure, the former-CEO is still invested in the company's success, and spent most of the letter encouraging Nadella and giving advice.

"Microsoft will need to be bold and make big bets to succeed in this new environment," he told Nadella. "Our board must also support and encourage that fearlessness for shareholders to get the best performance from Microsoft. You must drive that." While he's no longer a voice within the company, Ballmer still cares about Microsoft's stock performance: outside of index funds, he still owns more Microsoft shares than anyone, he says. "I bleed Microsoft, have for 34 years and I always will," he concluded. "I promise to support and encourage boldness by management in my role as a shareholder in any way I can."

Nadella shot back a supportive, equally optimistic response, promising that Microsoft will thrive in "the mobile-first, cloud-first world." End of an era? For sure -- you can read the full, unabridged letter (and Nadella's response) at the source link below.

[Image credit: NBAE/Getty Images]