Major Microsoft Investors Want Bill Gates Out as Chairman

Investors say Bill Gates has too much influence in Microsoft.

Oct. 2, 2013 — -- Major Microsoft shareholders are calling for founder Bill Gates to step down as the company's chairman.

Three investors, who own about 5 percent of the company, are worried that the founder's prominent presence as chairman of the board is preventing change and that he may play too large a role in choosing the next CEO, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources. Names of the three investors were not disclosed.

Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, announced in August that he will retire within the next several months, when a successor is found.

"While larger strategic decisions were likely passed by [Gates], I don't believe he has a lot of say or influence in the day-to-day business of the company," Norman Young, analyst with Morningstar, said. "A lot of the influence he had was also probably due to the close relationship he has or had with Steve Ballmer."

A spokesperson for Microsoft declined to comment.

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Ballmer met Gates in 1973 while they were living down a dormitory hall from each other at Harvard University. Gates gave up the role of CEO to Ballmer in 2000, and Gates left the company in 2008 to work full-time with his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Gates is Microsoft's largest individual shareholder and owns about 4.5 percent of the company. But the investors are concerned that he has power disproportionate to his holdings.

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Gates owned about half of Microsoft before it went public in 1986 and he sells about 80 million Microsoft shares a year. With this plan, Gates would have no financial stake in Microsoft by 2018, Reuters reports.

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When asked what are the chances that Gates steps down as chairman, Young said, "In the near term, probably less than 50/50, but over the next few years I don't think it would be too surprising."

"He is heavily involved with his charitable foundation and other investments, and while Microsoft will always be his baby, I think the majority of his focus is likely on matters other than Microsoft," Young said. "Frankly, I think finding a new CEO and executing or revising the devices and services strategy is more pressing."