Bill Gates to ease out of day-to-day role at Microsoft

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am

Chairman will hand over chief software architect role to focus on charity work

After three decades at the helm of Microsoft Corp, Bill Gates will leave his day-to-day duties at the world's biggest software firm in two years to focus on philanthropic work.

'This was a hard decision for me,' Mr Gates said yesterday. 'I'm very lucky to have two passions that I feel are so important. As I prepare for this change, I firmly believe the road ahead for Microsoft is as bright as ever.'

Mr Gates will remain as chairman, but cede his role as chief software architect to chief technical officer Ray Ozzie from July 2008 and shift his attention to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest charitable organisation with an endowment of about US$28.8 billion.

Co-chief technical officer Craig Mundie will immediately take the new role of chief research and strategy officer and work closely with Mr Gates to assume his responsibility for the company's research and incubation efforts.

The transition at Microsoft continues a changing of the guards in the world's largest and most influential information technology companies.

In January 2000, Mr Gates assumed the role of chief software architect and Steve Ballmer assumed the role of chief executive.

Twenty years after founding his eponymous computer firm, Michael Dell stepped down as chief on March 2004 and named Kevin Rollins to the position.

In April, Scott McNealy handed over the reins at Sun Microsystems to his appointed successor, Jonathan Schwartz, who was named chief executive and president.

On the 'reordering' of his priorities, Mr Gates said that 'one of the hardest things about my decision is that a couple years from now I'll miss working with Steve every day as I have for the past 26 years'.

At Microsoft, the burden will be more on Mr Ballmer to face up to the issues of slowing growth, delays in the release of Vista and Office 2007, competition from Google and the open-source movement, and harnessing new opportunities in emerging markets such as China.

In a report, Jupiter Research said: 'Microsoft has a problem: personal computer growth is strongest in emerging markets like China, where software piracy rates are high.'

It noted that Microsoft's recent deals with Chinese firms, including the world's third-largest computer maker Lenovo Group, and planned long-term strategic investments worth US$3.7 billion on the mainland 'could be construed as generating goodwill, which Microsoft would want to use to gain greater Chinese government co-operation fighting piracy'.

Alex Huang, Microsoft regional director for Greater China, said: 'Microsoft is well-positioned to make this transition - the business is strong and there's an incredible pipeline of products and services coming to market.'

Unfazed by the challenges, Mr Ballmer said: 'We have been preparing the company for many years to meet the demands of growth, and few realise that we've nearly doubled in size in the last six years to over 70,000 employees and nearly US$50 billion in revenue.'

Insiders also saw the news of Mr Gates' scaling down his duties as the right approach. 'A two-year transition will ensure a smooth transfer of strategy and knowledge from Bill to the next generation of leaders,' said James Cash, a member of the Microsoft board.