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Posted on February 5th, 2014 by Barry Collins

Meet the next CEO of Microsoft: Bill Gates

Gates blur

There are not many people who step down from a major role to spend more time with a company. But then Bill Gates is, or was, no ordinary company chairman.

Many commentators claim that by resigning as chairman, Gates has given the new CEO, Satya Nadella, more room to breathe. I’m not buying that. If Gates truly wanted to give Nadella the space to reorganise Microsoft free from interference, he could have taken a non-executive role on the board and gone to spend more time with his charity.

Instead, I suspect Gates is positioning himself for a Jobs-like second coming.

That way Gates gets his foot back in the door, John Thompson gets a nice promotion to chairman of the board, and Microsoft gets a new CEO who won’t the rock the boat too violently

The timing wasn’t right for him to return as CEO this time round – he’s spent the past six years away from the day-to-day running of the company, and it would simply have looked bad if he’d swooped back in to replace his old pal, Ballmer. What’s more, it wouldn’t have given the more vocal Microsoft shareholders the change they’ve been agitating for.

This way, however, he returns to the pivotal role of deciding which products get to leave the building, and which get buried after an avalanche of invective is blasted at the poor product manager who didn’t meet his notoriously high standards. Then, in a couple of years’ time, if Nadella is deemed to be underperforming as CEO, Gates isn’t in the awkward position of being the man who has to wield the knife. He can emerge as the returning hero without first having to yank the dagger from Nadella’s back.

The way in which Gates’ return was handled was also telling. If the official version of events is to be believed, Nadella “invited” Gates to spend more time with the company, working on product development. If that is true, when was such a move first mooted? In the job interviews, when Gates himself was on the committee to appoint the new CEO? That smacks a little of leaving an apple on sir’s desk, but flattering a key member – perhaps the key member – of the committee is a pretty smart way of securing the job.

Or was, as seems more likely to me, Nadella offered the job on condition that he works alongside Gates on product development. After all, Nadella has no real experience of managing consumer products such as Xbox, Surface or, arguably, even Windows itself. That way Gates gets his foot back in the door, John Thompson gets a nice promotion to chairman of the board, and Microsoft gets a new CEO who won’t the rock the boat too violently.

Either way, Gates is back at the heart of Microsoft, and my genuine belief is that Nadella now effectively becomes an interim CEO, carrying out the strategy that Ballmer laid down in the summer, until Gates is ready to reassume full control. It’s called One Microsoft, and it only ends one way: with Bill back at the helm.

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10 Responses to “ Meet the next CEO of Microsoft: Bill Gates ”

  1. tech3475 Says:
    February 5th, 2014 at 11:29 am

    So you think he’s doing a Putin.

  2. Alan Ralph Says:
    February 5th, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    You’re presuming that Gates has a plan to take Microsoft forward to a more secure future – or that he’s going to let Nadella do all the spade-work (and take the arrows in the back from within and without Microsoft) first.

    If not, and Gates is purely out to regain control of Microsoft, then I don’t see any good coming from such a plan. Jobs might have gotten his second wind, but there’s no guarantee such a feat can be repeated.

  3. Siz Says:
    February 6th, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Possibly. As conspiracy theories go, this one is quite appealing. But isn’t there a rather more mundane explanation:

    “…Nadella has no real experience of managing consumer products such as Xbox, Surface or, arguably, even Windows itself.” Perhaps Gates is filling that role for as long as is needed while Nadella gets up to speed in those areas before stepping aside? If nothing else, that would comfort the shareholders.

    If Gates did come back as CEO, it would be more than ‘doing a Jobs’; it would be coming back out of semi-retirement, when he has plenty to occupy himself with. Happens occasionally in politics and sport – but not in business surely?

  4. wittgenfrog Says:
    February 6th, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    I don’t really agree with this thesis, though it might come true anyway, just not for Machiavellian goings-on you identify.

    Bill Gates really has been there, done it and has a wardrobe full of T-Shirts to prove it.
    I believe he really is committed to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and that he is returning to MS quite reluctantly. I suspect it’s only his passion for technology and its possible benefits that has lured him back, and the only “30%” of him…

    As someone who greatly admires Bill Gates as a technologist, businessman, undervalued visionary and philanthropist, I’m hoping he’ll bring some serious focus and agility back to MS.
    Without a strong MS we tech enthusiasts are pretty much lumbered with a Jobless Apple, committed only to profit, and an avaricious and monopolistic Google, which mainly just an Advertising Agency that owns a lot of hardware….

  5. Iain Magee Says:
    February 6th, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Seriously? I’ve read and listened to some crazy theories throughout this process. This is the craziest! ;)

  6. Lenmontieth Says:
    February 8th, 2014 at 2:47 am

    I view this more like having a horse.
    Not only is it able to do work, but, like a pet, is capable of companionship.

    Bill no longer “owns” Microsoft because it has grown beyond the ownership of just a few persons. It is now a Capitalistic Giant that earns more than some small countries.
    Bills’ return could be possible, but perhaps like Dell, the company needs a more person to person approach that can not be achieved by the conglomerate machine that is now Microsoft.
    In the end, it is still Bill’s pet project with his intrinsically tied wealth.

  7. Alan Mcmillan Says:
    February 10th, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Microsoft gets a new CEO who won’t the rock the boat too violently.

    One too many “the”s in there, and you even copied the quote into the highlight.

  8. Roger Andre Says:
    February 17th, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Bill says; “Just pretend I’m not here.” Whilst people are trying to work. Paul Thurrott made an interesting Observation. Steve and Bill are always going to be ‘in the room.’ A very important point to consider regarding the board. A new member joins the board, ‘Value Act’ and it does seem as though the board is stacked in Bill and Steve’s favour when you consider value act would happily break up the company and sell everything down to the bone. No way that’s ever going to happen now, so in a sense Microsoft and Bill have future proofed the company and placed the pieces to preserve itself as a single entity whilst the sharks are circling on by.

  9. Steve Says:
    February 18th, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    It will probably be better off with Bill in charge.

  10. notebook kindle case Says:
    February 25th, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    After I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when
    new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a
    comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the same comment.
    Is there an easy method you are able to remove me from that service?


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