Three of the top 20 investors in Microsoft 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.
The outgoing Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has been under pressure for years to improve the company's performance and share price, but 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.
There is no indication that Microsoft's board would heed the wishes of the three investors, who collectively hold more than 5% of the company's stock, the sources say. They requested the identity of the investors be kept anonymous because the discussions are private.
Gates owns about 4.5% of the $277bn company and is its largest individual shareholder.
The three investors are concerned that Gates's presence on the board effectively blocks the adoption of new strategies and would limit the power of a new chief executive to make substantial changes. In particular, they point to Gates's role on the special committee searching for Ballmer's successor.
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.
Gates, who owned 49% of Microsoft before it went public in 1986, sells about 80m Microsoft shares a year under a pre-set plan, which if continued would leave him with no financial stake in the company by 2018.
Bill Gates - not only harming public education these days but also, at least according to three investors mounting an uphill rebellion against him, harming his old company, Microsoft, too.