According to Reuters, three of Microsoft’s top 20 investors are making noise that Microsoft remove its founder and former CEO Bill Gates as chairman of its board, his current role.
The information is almost odd, and points to a potential blank slate for Microsoft. In the midst of a massive reorganization, current CEO Steve Ballmer is stepping down. If Gates were to transition away from the company as well, it would leave Microsoft with new top leadership and serve as a pivotal moment in its history.
Microsoft is more than working to better align its internal teams and revamp its larger business model by moving away from selling software and towards vending both “devices” and “services.” Its early services efforts, such as Office 365 and Azure, have performed well, while its Surface project (the devices side of things) has flagged.
Why shift Gates? According to Reuters, the grumpy few feel that he might hold the company back from finding new direction.
Don’t think for a minute that Gates is about to let go of the reins gently. He’s been a fixture at Microsoft since its soul was first formed, and even though he has no intention of returning to the CEO position, there is little to indicate that he be willing to relinquish the role.
Also, if you are a Gates fan – and so very, very many of you are, as I’ve learned from your
polite tweets – it doesn’t make sense to change Gates’ board role precisely when his guidance could be key to helping the company pick its next leader. People that won’t be: Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates, Steven Sinofsky, You, Me. Everyone else is pretty much up for speculation.
I’ll just say that with the calming of ValueAct, I don’t see who could cause enough ruckus to manage a Gates role change, especially at this time of intentional turmoil. A final point: ValueAct controls around 0.8 percent of Microsoft. Gates: 4.5 percent. Ballmer has around 4 percent. That combined is a hefty chunk of the equity. Gates won’t have to step down if he doesn’t want to.
Update: I misread the initial Reuters report as indicating that the investors wanted Gates to step down from his chairmanship, not exit its board entirely. My overall analysis holds, that Gates doesn’t have to do a damn thing given his position and popularity, but I have updated the headline and post to reflect the correct source report. I apologize for the error in interpretation.
Top Image Credit: Robert Scoble