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Summary:

Bill Gates leaves his chairman’s chair to become technology advisor to incoming CEO Satya Nadella. Is the cofounder’s homecoming good or bad for Microsoft?

Photo: OnInnovation
photo: OnInnovation

Meet Bill Gates, technology advisor to Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella.

To assume that post, Gates, who cofounded Microsoft in 1975, is ceding his role as chairman to become more hands-on with the company’s product strategy and execution. Bloomberg broke the news of that possibility last week and expanded on it Monday – and sure enough, it’s come to pass.

For those who wanted to see demonstrable change atop Microsoft, this is worrisome. For much of Steve Ballmer’s 13-year tenure as CEO, Gates was off saving the world, running the multi-billion-dollar Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, chatting with Charlie Rose, fighting malaria. But it seems pretty clear in this succession drama that Team Gates was active in engineering just what would go down.

That, say Microsoft insiders, is the real story here. Some are not all that thrilled to see a return of the cofounder — who, after all, missed the internet and contributed to the Vista debacle – to an active role. In a Microsoft video posted this morning (embedded below), Gates said he’ll devote one-third of his time to meet with Microsoft product groups to help define next-gen products.

“I’m thrilled that Satya asked me to step up and substantially increasing the amount of time I spend at the company,” Gates said.

Some Microsoft shareholders — institutional and otherwise — had advocated that Gates leave the board so that the new CEO wouldn’t have to deal with a founder looking over his shoulder. That’s certainly not going to happen now. Conspiracy theorists would say Gates made sure it wouldn’t by pushing for his own CEO candidate, one who needs him, over outside possibilities like Ford CEO Alan Mullaly who was seen as Ballmer’s pick.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall) that Nadella told the Microsoft board he’d need Gates to be active to succeed as CEO.

Nadella echoed that sentiment in his letter to Microsoft employees Tuesday morning:

“I’ve been fortunate to work closely with both Bill and Steve in my different roles at Microsoft, and as I step in as CEO, I’ve asked Bill to devote additional time to the company, focused on technology and products.”

Which begs the question of just how much will Gates tinker with Microsoft going forward. And if he plans to be hands-on and active, is that necessarily a good thing? I’m guessing not because, unlike some others, I don’t think this company should go back to the future. It needs to look ahead.

Make no mistake, Nadella is a great choice as CEO. I’m just not sure he needs the company co-founder and former CEO as a shadow.

Check out the Bill Gates video below:

  1. I can’t help read this but as Bill Gates finally getting back to doing what Steve Jobs did. Products for people. AFter years working through many challenges and difficulties around the world, Gates has a keen and immediate understanding of seeing technological changes from the ground up. And I bet he wants to make products, have Microsoft make products that improve the world.

    This looks like the role that Jobs took when Sculley became CEO. And what did Steve and his team make? The Macintosh. When Apple purchased Next, Steve come back with a technological solution for Apple. It’s products that saved Apple. And Steve has always understood that. Steve went to India as a young person, Bill Gates as an older person. It seems they both learned the importance of technological development as a good, and maybe Bill Gates is taking that now very deep understanding of all the complexities and subtle importance relationships technology has to have with people for progress to be made and bringing that understanding back to Microsoft to make amazing products.

    Bill Gates whole focus for a decade is how can he do more measurable good in the world. I don’t see why he would give that up to help Microsoft unless he saw an opportunity to do good things for people, to push human development forward.

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    1. I honestly thought that your post was sarcasm when I read the first paragraph. Bill Gates has no idea about “products” and his predictions have been proven wrong time after time.

      Steve Jobs “went to India” for personal growth and fulfilment. He also dropped Acid for the same reason. Bill Gates went there as an old man to beat the drum for his philanthropy and to try to atone for his sins as an evil capitalist bastard that ruined the lives of thousands. Big difference.

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      1. Bill Gates in 1999 predicted that the cellphone would be the only device you would need under a decade.~playboy interview, 1999
        Bill Gates predicted tablet computing would replace the traditional PC going forward. He launched a miserable tablet with windows XP, but believe it or not, that was the starting of the domino effect and became the reason of ipad inception.
        So you can’t say he isn’t a visionary.

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        1. Actually, he didn’t predict the cellphone would be the only device you would need and you don’t do him justice on the tablet prediction.

          In fact, Bill Gates launched a miserable tablet with Windows 3.11 on it, then he launched a miserable tablet with Windows 95 on it, then a miserable tablet with Windows ME on it, followed by a miserable tablet with Windows Vista on it, a miserable tablet with Windows 7 on it, and several even *more* miserable tablets with Windows 8 and 8.1 on it.

          None of these tablets “led” to the iPad, none of them shared even basic technology or design elements with it except the ones that came *after* the iPad. Windows tablets were definitely *not* the starting of the “domino effect” as the iPad was created much later and was successful. Something that no Windows tablet has ever been.

          Also, your bad grammar and poor turn of phrase reveals you to be either a bit slow, or maybe you are an ESL student or a non-English speaker. Embarrassing.

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          1. For someone who capitalizes “acid” for no reason, you’re certainly quick to throw stones.

            And the only thing embarrassing here is your childish grammar nazi act. Could a user called “vineet” be a non-native speaker?

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          2. Being “an ESL student or a non-English speaker” is suppose to be embarrassing?

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          3. You’re the source of embarrassment man. Vineet made a legitimate point and you chose to bash the simple grammatical error that he made?

            Fact is Bill Gates is a visionary and you’ll get that answer from any industry captain out there. The fact that the iPad came out many years after Microsoft’s first foray into that space does not mean that it wasn’t influenced by Microsoft’s try.

            And I hope you’re aware that it wasn’t Gates’ or Microsoft’s intention to release a miserable tablet. It’s what you call be ahead of your time. Not all the processes and materials were available at the time to produce a tablet of the iPad’s quality and form factor.

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  2. I couldn’t have agreed more with Calvin.

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  3. I agree. Bill Gates being involved even in a nominal way is bad news. Despite the hero worship, Gates never really had much idea about technology or what was going to happen next. History has proven him wrong on almost every single count and most of his great ideas and “innovation” were either total flops, or stolen from Apple or some other source.

    What’s worse is that when a company is failing, what is needed is to look reality straight in the face and do what you have to do. Namely, cutting away the unprofitable parts and re-focussing the company on what it does well. For Microsoft however, this would mean getting out of mobile, which is not only the hottest game in town, it’s the future of computing. It would mean getting out of XBox as well and refocussing on the cloud and on business customers.

    No one at Microsoft seems to be able to take a sip of reality and see that they have essentially already lost on those grounds. That they have already lost the consumer space to companies like Apple. Bill Gates is amongst the head cheerleaders for this twisted, rose-coloured glasses view of the market that says that Microsoft can still succeed at these things. They can’t.

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    1. “Gates never really had much idea about technology or what was going to happen next.”

      He took Microsoft to the top and you’re trying to say he never had a clue? When he stepped down as CEO Microsoft had the highest market cap. of all public companies and yet “History has proven him wrong on almost every single count”?

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      1. @ Ezerea: re: “He took Microsoft to the top…”

        Business success does not equal knowledge of technology design. This is in fact most of the point of how Windows is designed. I said he doesn’t have a clue about technology or what’s going to happen next in the Tech world. If you check his predictions, you will find this to be factually correct. The guy is and has been wrong about almost every major technological shift in the computing industry. And that’s a simple, verifiable, fact.

        Market cap or anything to do with the actual business of things is entirely irrelevant to this discussion. It’s about technology and vision, not money.

        Consider this (I know you probably won’t understand it, but whatever) …

        You can “win” an argument without being right. You can “conquer” someone 9or some people or some country) without being better than them. Get it?

        You can also buy your way into the history books, because the very fact that you outrageously bought your way in, is itself “history” and quite interesting as well.

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        1. The software industry basically didn’t exist when he co-founded Microsoft. The deals made in the MS-DOS days had to do with hardware manufacturers not seeing the potential for software on it’s own. That was a pretty big shift in the tech world.

          Market cap speaks to his success as a CEO. To be one of the most successful CEOs of a tech company in history and have no clue about technology is an amazing feat.

          “Consider this (I know you probably won’t understand it, but whatever) …”

          What’s up with the personal attacks? Just trying to have a discussion here. I have no vested interest in trying to change your view point, I’m legitimately interested in understanding it.

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