Ballmer decided he needed a new human resources chief, someone to help improve the mood. Rather than promoting an HR professional or looking outside, he turned to perhaps the most unlikely candidate on his staff, a veteran product manager named Lisa Brummel.
No one was more stunned than Brummel. The 47-year-old executive is about as un-HR as you can imagine. She shuns business books (her taste runs to historical nonfiction); she takes the bus to work (using the 20-minute ride to zone out); and her wardrobe (shorts and sneakers) is in flagrant violation of the HR fashion police.
When Ballmer floated the HR job in April, 2005, Brummel said: No way. But Ballmer wasn't about to take no for an answer. Picking up a traveling golf putter, the Microsoft chief started taking it apart as he barreled around Brummel's office, hammering home why she was the perfect candidate. As an outsider unsullied by HR dogma, he said, she'd bring a fresh approach. Besides, Ballmer argued, Brummel was hugely popular and had the people skills to get the job done. The two went back and forth, with Ballmer slapping Brummel's whiteboard for emphasis and Brummel parrying with: "But I love doing products." After more than two hours, Ballmer ended the meeting. By then the putter was in pieces. "Sorry about the golf club," he said.