By Jennifer LeClaire / CIO Today. Updated February 03, 2014.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is rumored to be stepping down as chairman of the company. Instead, he’ll use his wits to helping develop innovative products. That’s according to a Bloomberg report. John Thompson, a Microsoft board member, is rumored to be taking his place.
Gates would still have a seat on the board, which seems poised to name Satya Nadella as Redmond's next chief. In his new role, the Microsoft powerhouse would focus less on administration and more on product development, Bloomberg said.
“Bill’s product reviews were legendary, and Microsoft’s products would benefit from his input,” Todd Warren, a 22-year Microsoft executive who left in 2009, told Bloomberg. “My concern would be that the tech landscape has shifted away from the PC in recent years.”
A Needed Change
We caught up with Rob Enderle, principal analyst at The Enderle Group, to get his take on the Gates hubbub. He told us, first off, that Thompson is an experienced executive at IBM and Symantec and very well regarded for his term in both companies. Enderle expects his software expertise to help him fulfill his role as chairman of the board.
“Gates was kibitzing too much. If you remember, they had the Courier tablet, which would have been released very timely against the iPad,” Enderle said. “Gates’ concerns about it not running Office killed it and that delayed it a couple of years and by that time the iPad was dominating. Microsoft saw the writing on the wall and have been swimming upstream ever since.”
Gates hasn’t been exclusively focused on Microsoft for many years -- and he can’t parachute in and out at will because his experience with the firm is now a decade and a half old, he said. Indeed, Gates started winding down his focus on Microsoft when Steve Ballmer took over as CEO in 2000.
Was Gates a Liability?
As Enderle sees it, as chairman of the board Gates has so much power that if the CEO wants to make a move he needs the co-founder’s buy in. In other words, without Gates' backing it’s hard to get things done. In that way, Gates could be more of an impediment to overcome than a help to get something done.
“Gates is a brilliant guy but it’s like anything else -- you age out and the end result is that you aren’t the person you were and the company is not the company it was when you were tied together. So I think it’s best that he step into a far more reduced role to assure that whoever becomes CEO can actually get the job done,” Enderle said.
“Microsoft is going to need all the help they can get. They don’t need impediments. Satya Nadella, who has been rumored to become the next CEO, seems to know how to use Gates appropriately. Changing the board would allow him to structure how Gates is engaged or not engaged so he can use him as an asset instead of a liability," he added. "As CEO you want to use Gates on your terms. You don’t want to use him arbitrarily and Gates, to his credit, realizes he was a big problem for Steve Ballmer and he’s changing his role so that doesn’t hurt the next guy.”