A trio of Microsoft investors wants Bill Gates to leave the company he helped co-found, according to a new Reuters report.
Those three investors hold roughly five percent of Microsoft’s stock. The newswire’s unnamed sources, apparently familiar with the matter, declined to publicly name the investors “because the discussions are private.”
Although Gates stepped down as Microsoft CEO some years ago, he continues to own roughly 4.5 percent of the company, making him the largest individual shareholder (his percentage is growing smaller, however, thanks to a preset plan that automatically sells a certain amount of his stock per year). Gates continues to exert a considerable amount of influence on Microsoft as its board chairman.
The unnamed investors are apparently concerned about that influence, despite Gates’ shrinking stock holdings. They also feel that Gates on the company’s board “effectively blocks the adoption of new strategies and would limit the power of a new chief executive to make substantial changes,” Reuters reported. “In particular, they point to Gates’ role on the special committee searching for Ballmer’s successor.”
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer plans on retiring sometime in the next year, once a replacement is chosen. Ballmer has been widely blamed for allowing Microsoft to fall behind in the consumer-technology space, which rivals such as Apple and Google continue to dominate. Rumored frontrunners for the CEO slot include current Ford CEO Alan Mulally and outgoing Nokia CEO Stephen Elop.
“I think the bigger issue is, now that Ballmer is being replaced, who will lead?” Jack Gold, principal analyst of J. Gold Associates, wrote in an email. “My opinion (and perhaps those that want Gates out) is that as long as Gates and Ballmer have essentially veto power over the selection process (since between them they control a large portion of the shares and have control over the board), that not much will change and the replacement will be cut from the same cloth, so to speak.”
By eliminating Gates as chairman and reducing Ballmer’s influence on the choice of Microsoft’s next CEO, Gold added, “you’re more likely to get someone that can take Microsoft in a needed new direction.”