Gates Plans Gradual Exit from Microsoft
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Bill Gates announced yesterday that, in two years, he will be stepping down from his day-to-day role at Microsoft to focus on his philanthropic foundation.
NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.
WENDY KAUFMAN reporting:
The 50-year-old Gates will continue to serve as Microsoft's chairman and as a company advisor, even after he leaves for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates says he is not retiring, but he made it clear it was time for him to move on.
Referring to Microsoft and his foundation, which works primarily on global health and education, he said I'm very lucky to have two passions that I feel are so important and so challenging.
Mr. BILL GATES (President of Microsoft Corporation): There's a common thread through my different work. It's a sense of optimism that smart, committed people, with the right support and vision, can have a huge impact.
KAUFMAN: Gates won't be leaving until July 2008. The two-year transition period is designed to make a smooth transfer of people, knowledge, and skills.
Bill Gates spoke glowingly about the senior executives who will take over the new management team, but he saved his highest praise for his long-time friend and partner at Microsoft, company CEO Steve Ballmer, who will remain in his post.
Ballmer, in turn, called Gates a visionary, who is heading off to become, what Ballmer called, the biggest philanthropist of all time.
Mr. STEVE BALLMER (CEO of Microsoft Corporation): I know the contribution you'll make to the world of health and education will be as great as the contribution you've made - and continue to make - to the world of software. I feel a lot of emotion today, but I also feel a lot of confidence that this company is capable of making a smooth transition without missing a single beat.
KAUFMAN: But Suresh Kotha, who teaches management at the University of Washington Business School, was one of many company observers who called Gates' decision to step aside, significant.
Professor SURESH KOTHA (Professor of Management and Organization, University of Washington): Well, it's a very, very symbolic announcement, I think. It kind of signals a changing of the guard.
KAUFMAN: He and others suggest that an infusion of new blood would likely benefit the company, and indeed some high-level outsiders have recently been brought on board.
Though yesterday's announcement came as a surprise, some people close to the company say that in recent days, Gates had seemed less engaged in company affairs. Perhaps he had become bored, one suggested, or more likely, understood that Microsoft had become a corporate behemoth, with huge management and other problems, and it might be best for the company and himself if he moved on.
At his foundation, with assets of more than $25 billion, Gates can once again be an entrepreneur.
In the meantime, the challenges for Microsoft persist. The company was extremely slow to recognize the significance of the Internet, and its search engine continues to trail both Google's and Yahoo's. What's more, the release of Vista, the company's much-ballyhooed next generation operating system, has been delayed.
Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle.
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