New York Times Declares Bill Gates Unfit for Microsoft Leadership Role
Bill Gates' "many talents donĂ˘€™t include effectiveness as chairman."--DealB%%k
ItĂ˘€™s Time for Bill Gates to Part Ways With Microsoft
by Robert Cyran
Maybe Bill Gates should follow Steven Ballmer out of Microsoft.
Allowing Microsoft to buy NokiaĂ˘€™s smartphone business as he exits will saddle Mr. Ballmer's successor with a flawed strategy. Mr. Gates, the companyĂ˘€™s founder and chairman, bears some responsibility for this and other missteps. With less than 5 percent of the shares -- scarcely more than Mr. Ballmer owns -- Mr. Gates matters more to his charitable foundation than to Microsoft these days.
In a sense, it's sacrilegious to suggest that Mr. Gates and the software behemoth he started part ways. He understands technology like few others and has demonstrated the acumen to create a huge business, now worth some $270 billion. With about $12.4 billion of stock, he is also still the biggest single shareholder and, given the long personal association, he surely cares about Microsoft's future.
Yet his many talents don't include effectiveness as chairman. Under his leadership, Microsoft's board left Mr. Ballmer in place too long. Now that Mr. Ballmer is to retire as chief executive within a year, Mr. Gates doesn't have a replacement ready, an important task for any chairman.
The board let Mr. Ballmer waste money by chasing consumer markets and hardware, with the companyĂ˘€™s online services business losing $12 billion over the last three years alone. Directors also just sanctioned the purchase of NokiaĂ˘€™s smartphone operations for $7.2 billion, locking Mr. Ballmer's successor into manufacturing devices Ă˘€“ hardly a Microsoft strength these days.
True, in the last decade of Mr. Ballmer's 13-year tenure the maturing company has returned more than $180 billion to investors, far more than any of its technology peers. Profit has also risen sharply. Despite this and Mr. Ballmer's passion, evident at Microsoft's annual investor meeting last week, shareholders just don't seem to believe in the company's strategy, developed with Mr. Ballmer and Mr. Gates in charge.
Over 10 years, Microsoft shares are barely higher. By comparison, with the odd exception like Hewlett-Packard, the likes of Apple, Google, Oracle and IBM have recorded big gains. The Nasdaq index has roughly doubled.
Mr. Gates's primary interest also arguably lies elsewhere these days. He stopped working full time at Microsoft five years ago. The $38 billion endowment of his charitable foundation dwarfs his Microsoft holding. Improving education and preventing disease worldwide may also seem more compelling these days than deciding whether a sprawling company should build tablet computers.
Mr. Ballmer's belated departure offers Mr. Gates a window of opportunity. The world might be better off with his full attention on the foundation -- and so would MicrosoftĂ˘€™s investors.
Robert Cyran is a columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. For more independent commentary and analysis, visit breakingviews.com.
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