Gates to Step Aside, Focus on Philanthropy

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates is planning to leave in 2008 the company he founded 31 years ago in order to focus on his philanthropy work.

Gates said June 15 he will remain as chairman and doesn’t “see a time when I’m not chairman of the company.”

“It’s not a retirement. It’s a reprioritization,” said Gates, who said he plans to focus his time on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Gates, 50, started Microsoft in 1975 with childhood friend Paul Allen. He took Microsoft public in 1986 and was the company’s chairman and CEO until 2000, when Ballmer took over as CEO. In 2000, with his wife, he formed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which now has assets of $29.1 billion.

With Gates out of the day-to-day role, Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie, two chief technology officers at the company, will step up. Ozzie will take on the title of chief software architect and Mundie will become chief research and strategy officer.

The move comes at a time when Microsoft is expanding into a plethora of new markets, including IPTV, gaming with its Xbox, a new operating system in Vista and new versions of Office. Meanwhile, the company has to fend off competition from open-source software.

Is Gates’ decision to step down any surprise? To read more, click here.

CEO Steve Ballmer said the company was prepared for the transition, with a restructuring in September of 2005 that split the company up into three divisions under presidents Jim Allchin, Kevin Johnson, Robbie Bach and Jeff Raikes. In August 2005 the company appointed Kevin Turner as chief operating officer. That restructuring gave Microsoft the bench of management talent needed for Gates to step aside.

“We can transition to a new set of technical leaders without missing a beat. We will delegate more authority down the line,” Ballmer said. “Bill’s imprint on this company will never diminish.”

Ballmer portrays Microsoft as a company that is ready to transition to new leaders and new technologies. Wall Street, however, has been skeptical, with Microsoft recently coming in at a 52-week low.

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