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1/22/2014
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Bill Gates Offers Microsoft 'Part-Time' Help

The Microsoft chairman negotiates CEO rumors while focusing on global poverty efforts.

7 Mistakes Microsoft Made In 2013
7 Mistakes Microsoft Made In 2013
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has been making the news media rounds this week to discuss his philanthropic efforts with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the release of his annual letter, dedicated this year to the role of aid programs in eradicating poverty.

Behind him, rumors about Microsoft's next CEO continue to swirl. Recent reports say Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg has joined insiders Satya Nadella and Stephen Elop on the short list of candidates. Reports have also indicated that preferred candidates such as Ford CEO Alan Mulally voluntarily dropped out of the running, due to the influence of Gates and outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer on the Microsoft board.

[Good news for Win XP fans: See Microsoft Delays Windows XP Antivirus Doomsday.]

The speculation inevitably spilled into Gates's news blitz. He told Bloomberg that he won't return as CEO -- a stance he has maintained from the start, despite some hopes to the contrary. He said he plans to dedicate the rest of his life to philanthropy, though he would "help out part-time" at Microsoft.

He also said that Microsoft will move at the right pace and that, even if the Microsoft board felt some urgency to name Ballmer's successor quickly, it would be important to choose the right person.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

But Gates is a seasoned public figure. Beyond what etiquette dictates, he has been tight lipped about the CEO search. He also used his interviews to opine on social issues, including why he voted to legalize marijuana in Washington. But more than anything else, he was out to dispel the notion that the world's poorest nations are beyond help.

"Don't let anyone tell you that Africa is worse off today than it was 50 years ago," he wrote in his letter. Income per capita has risen substantially. Seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies of the past half-decade are in Africa, and the continent has made substantial progress in health and education.

On the basis of these accomplishments, Gates predicted that, by 2035 no countries will be poor, at least according to the World Bank's current definition, adjusted for inflation. "Inequality will still be a big problem, [with] poor people in every region," but more than 70% of countries will have a higher per capita income than China does today.

Last year, Gates used his letter to emphasize the importance of analytics in addressing the world's problems. For the 2014 edition, he linked progress in developing nations to nonprofit aid efforts.

Foreign aid efforts are sometimes plagued by small-scale corruption and other problems, he wrote, but many programs have proven their worth. "Health aid is a phenomenal investment. When I look at how many fewer children are dying than 30 years ago, and how many people are living longer and healthier lives, I get quite optimistic about the future."

He also discussed the role of health aid in a Washington Post interview. "Capitalism did not eradicate smallpox," he said. "It just doesn't know how. Polio eradication is a work in progress, but it's not being done by markets. So the childhood death reduction, the nutrition improvements, those are overwhelmingly aid-driven."

As for Microsoft, CEO rumors continue to accumulate. Re/code recently reported that Microsoft's board has already made a decision, and that the announcement is being delayed until the hubbub over Gates's letter and the company's earnings have died down. Citing unnamed sources, the website also reported that Ballmer could resign from the board once a new CEO is introduced, though he would still be expected to control around 4% of Microsoft's shares.

Whether or not Microsoft has made a decision, the CEO rumor mill should kick into high gear by Thursday, when it announces its quarterly earnings.

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He graduated from Stanford in 2005 and previously worked in talent representation, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher.

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cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
1/23/2014 | 5:56:21 PM
How Microsoft got to where it is today
The fact is, it was Ballmer and Gates together who built Microsoft as a company. Somehow, they were better together than either one alone. (Someone explain that to me someday.) I had a sinking feeling about Microsoft's future as Ballmer took sole control. He has too much of a driven, competitive and short term perspective to get all the long term decisions right. At the same time I have little doubt it was Ballmere who helped convert Gate's technical insights and capabilties into a dominant business. The genius of the early Microsoft was to realize a new age was dawning and to harness the energies of thousands of independnent software developers to the Windows platform. This was more an expression of Bill Gates' programmer personality than Ballmer's business sense. Neither IBM, Digital Equipment or Sun Microsystems reached out beyond themselves in the same way in their early days. Microsoft launched the modern era of consumer computing... and is now struggling to keep up with it.  
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
1/23/2014 | 1:25:09 PM
Re: Nothing new
I'm of a mixed mind on this point--the value of having both Gates and Ballmer continuing on the Microsoft board.  They bring decades of rich experience and deep knowledge but also decades of legacy thinking. The new CEO won't need and should never get a rubber-stamp board, but he/she will need a wide berth to try some substantially new things. I think Ballmer, and Gates in particular, deserve the benefit of the doubt there. They won't be defenders of the status quo. 
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
1/23/2014 | 1:03:11 PM
Re: Gates' Legacy
Ha! You know, I had it playing in the background a while back while I was working on something, and I thought I'd caught the gist of the episode, but evidently not. I completely missed that Bill made an appearance. I still think his image transformation is notable, even if Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren't impressed. ;)

Interesting note about MS being of more pop culture importance in gaming than in PCs.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/23/2014 | 12:55:10 PM
Re: Gates' Legacy
I take it you missed the South Park episode this year about the epic battle for market share of gaming between PS 4 and XBox One in Black Friday sales. I don't want to spoil it for people who may not have seen it but suffice it to say Bill makes another appearance.

I guess that says something (gaming, not computers) about where MS is today in much of mainstream.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
1/23/2014 | 12:43:01 PM
Re: Gates' Legacy
I agree, Rob. In the late 90s, I remember watching the scene in the South Park movie in which Bill Gates is graphically shot in the head after he unsuccessfully defends Windows 98 to an Army general. At the time, the crowd cheered with approval. While South Park is irreverent as ever, I doubt that such a gag would play so well now. Some people still view Gates as competitive and cutthroat, but his philanthropic work has really cultivated a new, post-Microsoft personna. I won't be surprised if his post-Microsoft days ultimately define his legacy as much as his CEO ones.
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
1/23/2014 | 12:29:56 PM
Nothing new
Mr/ Gates has been a part timer at MS for the past several years; he's merely indicating that this isn't going to change.  But the notion that either Gates or Ballmer should resign from the board because their presence indicates that the new CEO won't have a free hand is ridiculous.  The job of a corporate board is to make policy, not to be a rubber stamp for the CEO.  Hence, the presence of two former CEOs on the board should be a relief to a good CEO and a check on a bad one (to misquote Benjamin Franklin).  I am under the impression that there are a lot more than 2 directors.

 

 
TomFLaSusa
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TomFLaSusa,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/23/2014 | 12:09:48 PM
Re: Gates' Legacy
Agree with "anon3887640480," -- Most of the people I talk with regarding Gates do acknowledge his philanthropic work, but connect him to MS first before they do.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
1/23/2014 | 10:01:22 AM
Re: Gates' Legacy
Especially considering that he's still being talked about as a potential CEO for the company. It would probably boost confidence a lot in the company if he made a return - as unlikely as that seems. 
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
1/23/2014 | 9:34:51 AM
Gates' Legacy
It's a testament to Gates' extraordinary philanthropic work that many of us no longer think of him mainly in Microsoft terms but more so in the context of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
anon3887640480
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anon3887640480,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/22/2014 | 5:32:43 PM
Re: Get outta the way Ballmer
I have to disagree. Windows has a huge market share, we owe this to the previous CEOs. And the new Windows 8.x strategy that unifies the Desktop part with the touch part is a winner too, because we finally have productive tablets and hybrids.

 
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