Gates under pressure to quit
Three of the top 20 investors in Microsoft Corp are lobbying the board to press for Bill Gates to step down as chairman of the software company he co-founded 38 years ago, according to people familiar with matter.
While Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has been under pressure for years to improve the company's performance and share price, this appears to be the first time that major shareholders are taking aim at Gates, who remains one of the most respected and influential figures in technology.
A representative for Microsoft declined to comment on Tuesday.
There is no indication that Microsoft's board would heed the wishes of the three investors, who collectively hold more than 5 percent of the company's stock, according to the sources.
They requested the identity of the investors be kept anonymous because the discussions were private.
Gates owns about 4.5 percent of the $277 billion company and is its largest individual shareholder.
The three investors are concerned that Gates' role as chairman effectively blocks the adoption of new strategies and would limit the power of a new chief executive to make substantial changes.
They are also worried that Gates -- who spends most of his time on his philanthropic foundation -- wields power out of proportion to his declining shareholding.
News that some investors were pushing for Gates' ouster as chairman provoked mixed reactions from other shareholders.
"This is long overdue," said Todd Lowenstein, a portfolio manager at HighMark Capital Management, which owns Microsoft shares.
"Replacing the old guard with some fresh eyes can provide the oxygen needed to properly evaluate their corporate strategy."
Microsoft is still one of the world's most valuable technology companies, making a net profit of $22 billion last fiscal year.
Shares of Microsoft have been essentially static for a decade, and the company has lost ground to Apple Inc and Google Inc in the move toward mobile computing.