SOUTHFIELD — Microsoft Corp. CEO and Michigan native Steven Ballmer received an honorary doctorate degree in computer science from Lawrence Technological University Friday morning in a special university convocation.
In a 10-minute speech, a visibly moved Ballmer credited Lawrence Tech with getting him off the ground in math — which led to his friendship at Harvard with Bill Gates, who made him one of Microsoft’s first employees.
Ballmer took calculus and other classes at Lawrence Tech from 1971 to 1973, when he was a student at Detroit Country Day. He also attended a science program for high school students that Lawrence Tech offered in the summer of 1972.
Ballmer said in his experience, five things are necessary for success in business and career — first, a bit of luck. But after that, he said, it’s all about knowledge, passion, perseverance and confidence.
And ironically, Ballmer’s speech started with a math error, with him stating that “I first came here 71 years ago… 1971, 40 years ago… I was good at math.”
Ballmer said he came to Lawrence Tech because “I ran out of math classes at Country Day. And my mother didn’t know what to do with me and Country Day didn’t know what to do with me, and they called over and found the right guy, and a lot of life is about luck. They found Dr. Marburger,” former dean and president at LTU.
Said Ballmer: “It’s always nice to be honored. It is really nice to be honored by people you respect. … So for me today this is a special honor.” He said he “really got switched on” to both math and economics at Lawrence Tech, which allowed him to engage “at a whole higher level” than he’d been able to do in high school.
And even though he doesn’t use math in most of his daily tasks today, Ballmer said that when it came to the early relationship with Gates that led him to Microsoft, “We were math friends… there was no question the kind of relationship we started out with.”
And he said he learned lessons of perseverance and confidence at Lawrence Tech as well.
“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, Lawrence Tech president Virinder K. Moudgil told Ballmer that “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.”
After the presentation, one of Ballmer’s professors still with the university, Michael Merscher, said Ballmer got straight A’s in the Calculus 1 and Calculus 2 courses he taught at the time.