Microsoft shareholders take aim at Bill Gates

Disquiet over Bill Gates' falling stake in Microsoft. Picture: Getty
Disquiet over Bill Gates' falling stake in Microsoft. Picture: Getty
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Some of Microsoft’s larger investors are lobbying to have Bill Gates removed as chairman of the software company he co-founded 38 years ago.

Three of the top 20 shareholders in the group, who have not been named, are said to have asked the company’s board to press for Gates to step down.

They are concerned that his role as chairman effectively blocks the adoption of new strategies and would limit the power of a new chief executive to make substantial changes. In particular, they point to Gates’ role on the special committee searching for the company’s next head.

The trio are also worried that Gates – who spends most of his time on his philanthropic foundation – wields power out of proportion to his declining shareholding.

The billionaire businessman lowered his profile at Microsoft after he handed the top job to Steve Ballmer in 2000, giving up his day-to-day work there in 2008 to focus on the $38 billion (£23bn) Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

He still owns about 4.5 per cent of the $277bn company and is its largest individual shareholder.

But Gates, who owned 49 per cent of Microsoft before it went public in 1986, sells about 80 million Microsoft shares a year under a pre-set plan, which if continued would leave him with no financial stake in the company by 2018.

In August, Ballmer said he would retire within 12 months, amid pressure from activist fund manager ValueAct Capital Management.

While Ballmer had been under pressure for years to improve the company’s performance and share price, this appears to be the first time that major shareholders have taken aim at Gates, who remains one of the most respected and influential figures in the sphere of technology.

A representative for Microsoft declined to comment.

But there is no indication that Microsoft’s board would heed the wishes of the three investors, who collectively hold more than 5 per cent of the stock.