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Bill Gates steps down from Microsoft board

WEB DESK – Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is stepping down from the company’s board so he can focus on philanthropy.

Mr. Gates was Microsoft’s chief executive until 2000 and has since scaled back his involvement in the company he founded with Paul Allen in 1975.

He withdrew from a day-to-day role in Microsoft in 2008 and served as chairman of the board until 2014.

Gates explained the move on Friday in a brief LinkedIn post, in which he also said he was leaving the board of Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate led by his longtime friend Warren Buffett. The reason for these departures, Gates wrote, was “to dedicate more time to philanthropic priorities including global health and development, education, and my increasing engagement in tackling climate change.” Coming as Gates joined the epic battle against Covid-19, the timing seems particularly apt.

Microsoft has been thriving under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella—it is now a trillion-dollar company, reaching a market value that it never approached under Gates. But the founder’s absence from the board leaves Microsoft ever so slightly altered, and almost certainly deprived. Despite leaving his full-time position at the company in 2008, Gates has continued to devote attention and passion to the giant he founded, and no one serving as a director could possibly bring the gravitas and pedigree he carries to the boardroom. (He still holds 1.3 percent of the company’s shares, valued at about $16 billion.)

This current move appears to be the culmination of a 20-year process of Gates’ attention shifting to philanthropy. In 2000, I was summoned to Microsoft, ostensibly to join several reporters for a debrief of the company’s product vision. Instead we were ushered into a television studio for the surprise announcement that Gates was yielding the CEO post to his longtime lieutenant Steve Ballmer. (He still held the post of executive chair and created a role for himself as chief software architect. At that time, he was just beginning to ramp up his philanthropy through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which evolved from earlier charitable efforts, and pledging to give the bulk of his fortune to the organization. (Since Gates was the world’s richest man at the time, that fortune was considerable.)

Eight years later, Gates left his full-time post at Microsoft to spend most of his time with the foundation. This time, he announced the move some months in advance. When I interviewed him on the eve of the change, he conceded that it would be a tough separation, but it was clear he had found philanthropy satisfying, approaching it with the same enthusiasm and geeky problem-solving that he devoted to software. Six years ago, he inched yet further away from the company that once defined him. He resigned as Microsoft’s board chair, while maintaining a board seat.

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