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Microsoft: Is it time for Bill Gates to go?

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It has come to light that three of the top 20 investors in technology giant Microsoft are actively trying to persuade the company’s Board of Directors to get co-founder and chairman Bill Gates to step down from his position. Gates co-founded the company with Paul Allen in 1975.

Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates (image: Wikimedia)
Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates (image: Wikimedia)

“There is no indication that Microsoft’s board would heed the wishes of the three investors, who collectively hold more than 5 percent of the company’s stock. They requested the identity of the investors be kept anonymous because the discussions are private. Gates owns about 4.5 percent of the $277 billion company and is its largest individual shareholder,” Reuters wrote.

According to the news source, the investors in question are concerned that Gates is a stumbling block in terms of new strategies and innovations in the company, and would limit the power of the new CEO, which will be appointed after current CEO Steven Ballmer retires at the end of the year.

Although Gates currently serves as chairman of Microsoft, he cut back on his involvement within the company in 2000 when he appointed Steve Ballmer as CEO, and in 2008 decided to step out of day-to-day operations in favour of philanthropy.

In 2000, Gates founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation by combining three family foundations into one, which (according to The Economist) is “the largest transparently operated charitable foundation in the world.”

Gates has consistently been ranked in the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people and prior to stepping down as CEO, he was instrumental in launching the first Windows offering in 1985, as well has pioneering several new products and innovations at the company.

Since Gates is no longer involved in the day-to-day running of the company, he should be able to step down with minimal impact to Microsoft. But CEO of analysis firm Strategy Worx Steven Ambrose doesn’t believe it is time for Gates to throw in the towel.

“I don’t think he should step down. The chairman is in many ways a figurehead and is not responsible for Strategy or driving the corporation in any business-significant way,” Ambrose told IT News Africa.

While Gates has been mainly focussed on his foundation, Ambrose is of the opinion that Gates still plays a very important role at Microsoft.

“As the founder and key personality for so much of Microsoft’s history, Bill Gates is an important link and anchor to the past and a bridge to the future of Microsoft. His role at Microsoft is of both figurehead and he acts as a powerful advocate for the company and its offerings in circles that operational employees cannot or do not want to address. Advocacy and influence are key roles as chairman.”

But The Verge writes that out-going Ballmer has been struggling to perform while in the shadow of Gates.

“Ballmer’s late-to-the-game approach over the past 13 years hasn’t fully moved Microsoft on from the shadow of Gates and the PC, and he’ll never get the chance to fix that himself. He’s spent a lifetime at Microsoft and it’s clear he loves the company, but his reliance on the Gates legacy and a lack of vision have now placed Microsoft in a tricky position.”

As current CEO Steve Ballmer will be stepping down before the end of the year and Bill Gates is fully involved in the search for a successor, the new CEO of Microsoft might be forced to chart a course that is in line with Gates’ vision.

“As the elder statesman and figurehead, Gates sets a tone and style that Microsoft can use to its benefit, whilst operational management set the actual agenda with regard to technology. The new CEO will be the visionary who will make sure Microsoft remains relevant in the new technology arena. Gates as Chairman of the board, along with the board will ensure the enabling environment for the operational team to deliver on this vision,” Ambrose concluded.

Microsoft remains one of the world’s most valuable technology companies, making a net profit of $22 billion last fiscal year.

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor

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