Thinking the Unthinkable: Why Bill Gates Needs to Go
If a pair of reports are true, Microsoft investors may be seeking to boot both Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.
Wed, October 02, 2013
PC World — A Microsoft without Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer? Unimaginable. Unthinkable. But ultimately undeniable.
Although Ford's chief executive, Alan Mulally, downplayed storiesA that reported he's the leading candidate to replace Steve Ballmer as chief executive of Microsoft, the fact that at least one report named him as the top candidate may indicate that Microsoft's board is looking both outside the company, and for entirely fresh perspectives.
The plot thickened on Monday when Reuters reported that three of the top investors in Microsoft want company founder and current chairman Bill Gates to step down as well. The reportA says the three rebel shareholders hold more than 5 percent of the company's outstanding shares--that's slightly more than the 4.5 percent stake Gates still holds. Microsoft, naturally, hasn't commented.A Gates, who once controlled 49 percent of the company, has steadily sold off millions of shares per year on a pre-set plan that will see him pull out of the company (financially at least) by 2018.
Gates shouldn't leave immediately. In fact, he's the key to ensuring a successful transition between Ballmer and the new chief executive. "Bill is involved in the search for a new CEO, and I believe he'll stay put to ensure that the company's direction is clear and on a solid footing as the new CEO takes over," Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said in an email.
After that process concludes, however, it's probably time for both Ballmer and Gates to begin winding down.A With Ballmer's tenure as chief executive ending in a little less than a year's time (if not sooner), he's already embarked on a farewell tour of sorts. Indeed,A Ballmer's presentation at the company's recent analyst meeting had the tone of a goodbye.
Investors have long hoped to mount Ballmer's head on a pike. In May 2012,A Forbes named him the world's worst CEO. And, yes, Ballmer green-lit Windows 8, which is still clawing its way to relevance. Of course, Gates famously watched the Internet pass Microsoft by, but then aggressively bundled Internet Explorer with Windows to catch up. The lesson? Microsoft makes mistakes, but also quickly fixes them.
I've argued before that the timing of Ballmer's replacement will potentiallyA undo theA "One Microsoft" strategyA that was introduced with Ballmer's corporate reorganization this past summer. Microsoft has aligned itself around a devices and services strategy, and hasA spread ownership of key technologies such as operating systems to various groups, rather than keeping them bottled up in individual product silos.