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7 Reasons Bill Gates Shouldn't and Won't Return to Microsoft

At a party I attended last weekend, I met someone who provides outsourced support for Windows-based systems and clients. Naturally we got into a conversation about Microsoft and its challenges in the post-PC world.

This gathering was on Saturday, the day after investors bid down Microsoft shares 11.4 percent following the company's dismal fiscal fourth quarter earnings report that was lower than analysts expected. As we were talking, he predicted with a sense of inevitability that Bill Gates will return to Microsoft. I responded that's never going to happen and we had a friendly but spirited debate on the matter.

Gates has made very clear on numerous occasions he's not returning to Microsoft -- his commitment is toward tackling poverty, disease and providing education to those in the poorest parts of the world. This is indeed a much more important endeavor. As we debated the matter at Saturday's party, this person said to me "if it means saving the company he founded, he'll want to come back," arguing it would give him the chance to do for Microsoft what Jobs did for Apple.

I probably would have shrugged off the conversation had an article not appeared in the Australian International Business Times Monday saying there's speculation that Gates may return to Microsoft. The article was devoid of any other substance and didn't even point to unnamed sources.

Again, I was prepared to shrug that off, yet a number of reporters pointed to it including Mary Jo Foley in her ZDNet All About Microsoft blog, where she stuck to her guns in pointing out there's no way Gates is coming back (she has done so in the past in her Redmond magazine column as well).

I'm in full agreement. Nor do I think he should and here are seven reasons why:

  1. Just because Steve Jobs brought Apple back from the brink and led it to become the world's largest company (and Howard Schultz was able to return to Starbucks and revive its fortunes) doesn't mean Gates is in a position to do the same for Microsoft -- nor are Microsoft's troubles as dire as Apple's were back in the late 1990s. Consider Founder Michael Dell has yet to completely turn around company that bears his name which he came back to fix (and it remains to be seen if he ever will) and Jerry Yang couldn't do so for Yahoo.

  2. The origins of Microsoft's problems pre-date Gates departure. While he wasn't CEO when Microsoft released Windows Vista, he was an active chairman and chief software architect. Gates arguably could have made decisions back then that might have put Microsoft in a better competitive position today -- particularly in the tablet and smartphone game. Let's not forget Gates was still at Microsoft in a full-time capacity when the company made its ill-advised $44 billion hostile takeover attempt of Yahoo, a deal which could have proven devastating to Microsoft, yet fortunately the aforementioned Yang was foolish enough to fight off.

  3. As Microsoft's largest shareholder, Gates can steer the company in any direction he wants without running it from day to day. To what extent he's doing so with CEO Steve Ballmer as a conduit is anyone's guess.

  4. Gates founded Microsoft with the vision of putting a computer on everyone's desk and home. To a large extent he's seen his vision through, though he was never able to make good on his early promise of making tablets ubiquitous.

  5. When Jobs came back to Apple, he had a vision for the next wave of computing, communications and entertainment and had unfinished business. I've heard little from Gates these days to suggest he shares those same attributes.

  6. Despite all of the challenges facing Microsoft, it's hardly about to fall off a cliff. The company has over $70 billion in cash and many of its businesses are still thriving, while others are in the midst of multiyear transitions.

  7. While there are still many developing countries and among the poorest in our society who still can't afford computers or smartphones, Gates best chance for changing that is through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There's no reason he should, or will, give up his work with the foundation.

Do you believe Gates should put poverty aside and return to Microsoft? Feel free to comment or drop me a line at [email protected].


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/26/2013 at 1:15 PM


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