Oct 02 - Three top shareholders think Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates should step down as part of ushering in a new future for the tech company, but not everyone is convinced Gates has to go. Conway G. Gittens reports.
There are more calls for change at Microsoft, and this time it involves founder and Chairman Bill Gates. Three top shareholders want him to follow retiring CEO Steve Ballmer out the door and take a controversial restructuring plan with them. A Gates exit would make sense if he's standing in the way of much needed change, says tech consultant Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates. SOUNDBITE: JACK GOLD, PRINCIPAL ANALYST, J. GOLD ASSOCIATES (ENGLISH) SAYING: "Gates staying on could be an issue with new leadership coming in who want to take Microsoft in a new direction. I think it could also be an issue if someone radical is under consideration and Gates thinks it's not right for the company he founded. And finally he gets a fairly significant vote as chairman of the board and could squash search committees or search criteria, I don't know if he would do that, but it is certainly possible for him do that." Even though Gates stepped down from day-to-day operations back in 2008 to focus on his philanthropy, Silicon Valley is filled with founders who are reluctant to let go. Yahoo's Jerry Yang is a name that quickly comes to mind, Steve Jobs was kicked out at Apple before his return ushered in the digital revolution, and then there's Michael Dell who is currently fighting to make his computer company relevant again. Gates has an advantage though. He is still regarded as a wizard in the tech sector and could be valuable in the role as elder statesman in a time of uncertainty and tumultuous change. SOUNDBITE: JACK GOLD, PRINCIPAL ANALYST, J. GOLD ASSOCIATES (ENGLISH) SAYING: "He could also serve that function as an advisory position to the new CEO when the new CEO comes along. It's like you know like when elect a new president, the new president generally speaking speaks with the old presidents and the past couple of presidents to try and get a sense of what's going on in the environment. I can see Bill Gates performing that very well." But that can only work if Gates, as the old guard doesn't stand in the way of the new guard's attempts to bring back growth. SOUNDBITE: JACK GOLD, PRINCIPAL ANALYST, J. GOLD ASSOCIATES (ENGLISH) SAYING: "I think you've got to get to a point where there is less infighting within Microsoft, which there has been over the last couple of years. You've got to get to a point where they are listening to their customers better. You've gotta get to a point where they are not - so to speak - drinking their own bath water; they are actually listening to what's going on in the marketplace." And make no mistake, the marketplace is speaking and some board members are listening, sending a clear message that the titles of founder and visionary don't necessarily always stay together.