Gates, speaking in an interview on Bloomberg Television, didn’t indicate whether Microsoft’s board was closer to choosing a replacement for CEO Steve Ballmer, who is retiring this year.
The board began its search after Ballmer, CEO since 2000, said in August that he planned to retire from the company within 12 months. Gates has emphasized the need to find a CEO with “the ability to lead a highly technical organization and work with top technical talent.” Lead independent director John Thompson, who is heading the search committee, has said the board plans to make its decision in the “early part of 2014.”
“The board is doing important work right now,” said Gates, who created the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with his wife in 2000. “The foundation is the biggest part of my time. I put in part-time work to help as a board member. My full-time work will be the foundation for the rest of my life. I will not change that.”
The board is considering Ericsson AB CEO Hans Vestberg and other outsiders, and internal candidates Microsoft cloud- computing chief Satya Nadella and former Nokia Oyj CEO Stephen Elop, people with knowledge of the search have said. The board hasn’t yet reached a decision and who is under consideration is still subject to change.
Any new CEO will have to turn around Microsoft, whose main software business is struggling. At the same time, the Redmond, Wash.-based company has made limited headway in fast- growing markets such as smartphones and tablets. Gates and Ballmer, who together hold about 8 percent of the stock, are also on the board. Their presence has deterred some candidates, raising concern that a new CEO might lack independence in the role, said people familiar with some of the candidates’ thinking.
Gates’s comments address that concern, according to Steve Ashley, a software analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co.
“One of the things that had been talked about was, would you feel his breath on your neck - how much freedom would the new CEO have?” Ashley said.
Some CEO candidates have said no or dropped out of the running, people with knowledge of the search have said. Ford CEO Alan Mulally, 68, who had been under consideration for the Microsoft job, said this month that he plans to stay at the automaker. Mulally’s candidacy for Microsoft CEO had faded amid questions about his age and lack of technology experience, people with knowledge of the search have said.