Microsoft’s Bill Gates “Steps Up” To New Role As Technology Advisor: Was He Pushed Or Did He Jump?

Along with the news today that Satya Nadella will be the next CEO of Microsoft, another big change in the executive ranks: Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder, is leaving his role as chairman of the board and is taking a new role as “Founder and Technology Advisor”. Microsoft terms the change as a “step up” from his previous job, in that it will see Gates once again taking a more active role in the company.

John Thompson, who joined the board in February 2012 and is the lead independent director on the board of directors, becomes the new chairman.

Microsoft notes that Gates “will devote more time to the company, supporting Nadella in shaping technology and product direction.” He will remain a part of the board of directors.

“The opportunity at Microsoft is greater than ever before,” Gates says in a video announcement released today (embedded below).

In that video, Gates highlights areas like cloud technology and mobile. He says that one-third of his time will be available to meet with product groups. “I’m thrilled that Satya has asked me to step up,” Gates notes, adding that it will be “fun to define the new products working together.”

For those who have been observing Microsoft, Gates’ move is unsurprising. As part of the new leadership succession there have been reports as recently as yesterday that Gates would take a more active product role in the company, including spending at least one day at week at Microsoft, but spending less time involved with administrative work.

But at the same time, in the months between Steve Ballmer first announcing he would leave his role as Microsoft CEO and today, there have been some arguing that Gates should step down as chairman, to give Microsoft a clean slate unencumbered with legacy ideas of how it should develop.

What isn’t clear is whether Gates’ new position is the result of that pressure to remove him as chairman, or a geniune interest from him and Microsoft to get more involved again in the company’s strategic future by giving him a more active role. Was he pushed or did he jump at the opportunity, in other words?

Some detail that I would argue is in favor of the latter: we have heard that Gates has been involved with some of the most strategic moves at the company in terms of product and M&A for a while now. And just as some have been demanding Gates step back, others have apparently been promoting the idea of Gates as a potential CEO candidate.

Taking a more active role again at Microsoft would be an interesting turn of events for the company’s co-founder.

For the last several years, Gates has put a lot of time, effort and money into philanthropic ventures with his wife Melinda and related investments. He has also built up a portfolio of investments focusing on areas like sustainable energy and medical technology.

The new composition of the Microsoft board is as follows: Satya Nadella; Steve Ballmer; Dina Dublon, former Chief Financial Officer of JPMorgan Chase; Bill Gates; Maria M. Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College; Stephen J. Luczo, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Seagate Technology PLC; David F. Marquardt, General Partner at August Capital; Nadella; Charles H. Noski, former Vice Chairman of Bank of America Corp.; Dr. Helmut Panke, former Chairman of the Board of Management at BMW Bayerische Motoren Werke AG; and John Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of Virtual Instruments.

Seven of the 10 board members are independent of Microsoft, which is consistent with the requirement in the company’s governance guidelines that a substantial majority be independent.

Here’s Gates’ video endorsing Nadella as CEO:

Photo: Flickr