A ‘Numbers Geek’ Mystery: Can Steve Ballmer identify a company solely from its financial results?

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer records an episode of “Numbers Geek,” a podcast produced by GeekWire in partnership with Ballmer’s USAFacts. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Can Steve Ballmer figure out the identity of an anonymous company just from the numbers on its income statement? Can you?

On this episode of Numbers Geek, we challenge the former Microsoft CEO to solve a numerical mystery, with a few surprise twists along the way. In the process, our Resident Numbers Geek gives us a glimpse into how he reads one of the most important types of documents in the business world.

Follow along and see if you can crack the case before Steve does.

To help as you listen, here’s the income statement we used — including a mistake that Steve caught when he was trying to figure it out. (Listen to the show for more on this.)

Here’s your first clue: Steve didn’t know it when we started, but this is a company that has played a big role in his life. But it’s probably not the one you’re thinking. As Steve observed when he saw the numbers, this is definitely not a software company, as evidenced by the gross margin of about 10 percent, much lower than a typical software company, even in the cloud era.

Introducing ‘Numbers Geek,’ a new podcast from GeekWire and Steve Ballmer’s USAFacts

If you’re new to Numbers Geek and you enjoy this episode, be sure to check out our Basketball Box Score Mystery, Episode 5, where we challenged Steve to identify a legendary NBA game without any team or player names, just from the stats. We also did the same with Sue Bird at the end of our conversation with the WNBA legend.

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