When you're running a company the size of Microsoft, you're going to face issues. Lots of them. Competition with Apple , and Google , and Sony , economic vagaries, the European Commission, the Justice Department. Product development, innovation, politics.
And in the case of Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO for the past decade or so, you're going to face questions about your tenure on the job.
Concerns about the narrow range of Microsoft stock, its seeming inability to convince Wall Street to show a little more love, some product missteps and an earnings miss earlier this year have all led to fairly regular speculation about Ballmer would move on to another opportunity elsewhere.
I asked him about that in my interview with him recently.
Do you get frustrated that Wall Street isn't getting their arms around the Microsoft story, I asked?
How do you reassure them that this the place for their money and that the job you're doing, Steve Ballmer, is the right one? Are you worried about your job?
"I'm not worried about my job," Ballmer tells me. "I do worry about shareholder value. Number 1, I'm a shareholder. I'm our second largest shareholder. There may be an institution above me, but otherwise I'm right behind Bill Gates. So I think like a shareholder, a long-term shareholder mind you. But a shareholder, that's number 1.
"Number 2, as a shareholder, I know the best thing we can do is grow operating income, and generate cash. We do more of the latter, because we don't have a lot of capex the way the oil companies do, than anybody around, and we made over $20 billion pre-tax operating income last year. A substantial growth over the period of time when I took over in 2000.
"And I'm proud about that, and I point that to shareholders. I think, can't keep track of everything going on in China, but ex what's going on in the Chinese stock market, I think only Exxon-Mobil has a higher market capitalization than we do, so in some sense, growing that is a little tougher.
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"Some days, I feel like we're the ceiling on the market, and if the ceiling goes up, everybody goes up with us. But we're gonna keep driving operating income, cash generation and we're gonna continue to pay dividends and buy back when that looks like an appropriate thing to go do. At the same time, we're going to invest the $9.5 billion in R&D to give this company a growth future... $9.5 billion? Nobody in the world spends more on R&D than we do, nobody better get more out of their R&D investment than we do, and if we do that right, we'll be sitting here in a number of years, and operating income will have risen, and we'll be talking about another strong performance by the company financially.
"And in the long run, that'll reflect itself appropriately in the stock."
He seems supremely confident. And with earnings coming tomorrow, he'll need to be.
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