Bill Gates Coming out of Retirement?

by Braden Kelley

Bill Gates Coming out of Retirement?When I saw the op-end piece in The New York Times this morning by Dick Brass, I thought it was time to submit an article somewhere about this pattern of facts. I came across Blogging Innovation today and thought it might make an interesting place to cast some daylight on the possibilities. I shouldn’t get into any trouble because I am just stating facts and asking questions, and I don’t even mention certain names.

So here goes…

Just in the past month there have been some really strange things that by themselves might not amount to much, but if you look at the facts as a collection, it starts to make one wonder if something is up over at Microsoft. Microsoft is in fact my employer and I am the first to admit that I don’t know of any secrets on this subject. I am just seeing some odd patterns, and I started to wonder if they add up to Bill Gates coming out of “retirement” to fix Microsoft.

The facts exist in a couple of different categories, and the first is the signs of trouble internally:

  1. Systemic problems. In The New York Times today, a former Microsoft executive wrote a lengthy opinion piece called “Microsoft’s Creative Destruction” where he lays out some vivid examples of problems within the company – specifically that the Office and Windows franchises have run their course and there are no obvious heirs, despite several attempts that were quashed for personal and political reasons. Very compelling. But it does beg the question – why now? What is the reason for that op-ed piece?
  2. Executives are leaving. CFO Chris Liddell did an amazing job as CFO and just left to be the CFO of General Motors, where it has been widely speculated that he will be their next CEO. Senior Vice President Bill Veghte, an almost 20 year veteran also just resigned because he also wants to be the CEO of an organization. Again, why now? Were Liddell and Veghte told that they weren’t candidates to be the next CEO? There aren’t many people who can come in and take that job.
  3. Wall Street disapproval. With a brand new CFO, last week Microsoft announced much higher than expected profits, and the stock dropped. Why? Some have speculated that any time a company like Microsoft misses expectations in either direction that substantially, it is a sign that they don’t have a real handle on what’s going on. Who has the credibility to get Wall Street excited about Microsoft, there are not a lot of people who could do it quickly.
  4. Mostly flat stock for ten years. There have been some big fluctuations, but if you look back at the last ten years, the stock has been basically flat, and that isn’t sustainable. Could you imagine what the stock would do if Bill Gates came back to be the CEO?

The other side of this that’s intriguing is that Bill Gates has taken on a dramatically more public persona related to his foundation work, from Twitter, to Facebook, to The Daily Show (where he was engaging and funny). Here are some facts that are interesting:

  1. Foundation CEO is a close, trusted friend of Bill. Last year, former Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes took the job as CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and for some odd reason agreed to a really big salary even though he made a huge pile of money at Microsoft. So if Bill puts one of his most trusted former Microsoft execs in charge of the foundation, that then makes it possible for him to make time to go fix his “baby” – Microsoft. Why wouldn’t Raikes be the one pushing all of these messages for the foundation?
  2. Bill is rebranding. For many years, Bill Gates had a bit of a Darth Vader reputation. People literally called Microsoft “the evil empire” and Bill was the leader for all of the anti-competitive things that were alleged to have happen in those days. Now Microsoft is seen by many as irrelevant in discussions about Apple, Google, and IBM. So now, Bill goes out and talks about all of the incredibly cool things his foundation is doing, people are becoming “fans” of his on Facebook by the thousands every day, he’s being buddy-buddy with Jon Stewart and he is becoming really cool and really popular, while still being one of the smartest guys in the world. What a great story to have Joe Cool go in to fix his ailing “baby”
  3. It wouldn’t be the first time. Michael Dell came back to Dell, Jerry Yang came back to Yahoo!, and there are others who have come out of retirement to fix their creation (though not always with storybook endings). Bill is only 53, he’s still not that old and he has all of the credibility in the world to come back in and reinvigorate the masses. Why wouldn’t he do that with the foundation in the competent hands of Jeff Raikes and Bill’s wife Melinda?

As I said, I haven’t heard any rumors about this, but it certainly makes for an interesting narrative and it would explain a lot of the above. Personally, I think it would be great to see and Microsoft people would do backflips to have Bill back at the helm, Google would cringe, and Wall Street would cheer and I would bet on a storybook ending.

So hopefully Bill is considering coming out of retirement, and he can take Bill Brass’s op-ed piece as input into imagining what is needed at Microsoft.

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  1. I don't think BG will come back, and here's why: IMHO, he left because he wanted to get out before the blame for the slow demise of MS could be blamed on him. Let Ballmer take the hit. Instead, he could go save the world and be remembered for that. Assuming I am right about why he left…there's no reason why he would go back. It would ruin his chances of being remembered for something good…since a rosy future of Microsoft is doubtful.

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