Report: Top Microsoft Investors Want Gates To Relinquish Chairman Role

Three of Microsoft's 20 biggest investors, who hold about 5 percent of the company's shares, are pushing for Gates to relinquish the chairman role because they see him as a roadblock to needed strategic changes, Reuters reported Tuesday, without naming the investors.

The investors are concerned Gates, who is part of the special committee Microsoft has appointed to find a new CEO to replace the departing Steve Ballmer, is pushing for a Ballmer clone in order to keep the company on its current course, according to the Reuters report.

[Related: Microsoft Offers Board Seat To Activist Investment Firm ValueAct Capital ]

A Microsoft spokesperson declined comment, citing the company's policy of not commenting on "rumors or speculation."

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Gates is Microsoft's largest shareholder and his stake amounts to roughly 4.5 percent of the $282 billion company. However, as noted by Reuters, Gates sells roughly 80 million shares every year as part of a pre-arranged plan, and he's on track to be completely divested from the company by 2018.

While last month's revelation that Ballmer would be leaving after 33 years at Microsoft was surprising, it pales in comparison to the notion that Gates could also be pushed out of the company he co-founded alongside Paul Allen 38 years ago.

Gates is spending the bulk of his time on philanthropic work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is trying to cure the world's diseases and empower the poor through educational programs. Gates has repeatedly made it clear he has no interest is coming back as CEO.

But apparently, some investors are convinced Gates is somehow pulling the strings and influencing key decisions at Microsoft from behind the scenes. In August, Microsoft staved off a potential proxy fight by granting ValueAct Capital, a San Francisco-based investment firm that owns about 0.8 percent of Microsoft's outstanding shares, a seat on its board of directors.

Gates is still widely revered in the Microsoft channel, and CRN's attempts to elicit reactions from Microsoft partners were unsuccessful. What is surprising is that no one wanted to be quoted saying that Gates should stay on as chairman.

While partners aren't eager to suggest publicly that Gates should step down, they might privately be excited at the prospect of the real and radical changes that could result if he does step down as chairman. This is especially true for the not-insignificant number of partners that don't think the company is listening to them as closely as it used to.

PUBLISHED Oct. 2, 2013