Photo: BBC via WinRumors
Steve Ballmer has said he doesn’t plan to give up the reins at Microsoft until his youngest kid leaves for college in 2017 (or so).Which means the only way he leaves before then is if he gets fired.
And there’s no way he gets fired as long as he has the support of Bill Gates.
- Weak board. Microsoft has a pretty small board — only 7 independent members, or 6 if you don’t count David Marquardt, who was one of the first VC investors in the company and has been on the board literally since it started. Only one of those members is a strong business leader in the tech space — Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. The rest are retired execs from non-tech companies. There’s no way they are going to stand up to Ballmer without the support of Gates, the chairman.
- Voting shares. In theory, a group of insurgent investors could mount an alternate slate of directors who would replace Ballmer. But they’d have to get an awful lot of institutional investors behind them — Bill Gates is still the largest shareholder, with 6.65% of the company, and Ballmer is number two with 3.95%, according to Thomson Reuters (via ZDNet). A few large institutional investors hold about 3% each.
- Replacement. Even if investors made a successful challenge to Ballmer, Gates is the only conceivable replacement who would inspire both investors and employees. Microsoft would have a hard time getting a successful tech exec to jump ship — Mark Zuckerberg may admire Gates, but he’s not about to work for him. A former Microsoft exec like Jeff Raikes (who leads the Gates Foundation now) would be more of the same, and outsiders from different businesses have a mixed record — Lou Gerstner came to IBM from Nabisco (and American Express before that) and saved the company from going out of business, but Apple had huge problems with former Pepsi exec John Sculley and didn’t recover until they put Steve Jobs back in charge.
So Ballmer haters can dream about Gates waking up one day and deciding it’s time for his best friend to go. But there’s no indication at all that Gates is considering it.
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