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Gates Announces Semi-Retirement

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It’ll take two men to fill Bill Gate’s shoes at Microsoft. In a surprise announcement late yesterday, the behemoth software company chairman, whose Windows operating system changed the face of personal computing, said he would “transition” out of a day-to-day role in the company so he could more intensely focus on charity work.

Not only will it take two men, Chief Technical Officers Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie to take on Gates’ responsibility, but they will be learning the ropes of the world’s premiere company over a two-year period. By July 2008, Ozzie will assume the title of chief software architect; Mundie will be the newly created chief research and strategy officer while partnering with general counsel Brad Smith to guide Microsoft’s property and technology policy efforts.

Though Gates will continue to serve as the company’s chairman and advisor on key development projects, but the majority of his time will be devoted to global health and education, the focus of Gates’ nonprofit Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“This was a hard decision for me,” Gates added. “I’m very lucky to have two passions that I feel are so important and so challenging. As I prepare for this change, I firmly believe the road ahead for Microsoft is as bright as ever.” Gates said. “I remain fully committed and full time at Microsoft through June 2008 and will be working side by side with Ray and Craig to ensure that a smooth transition occurs.”

Gates, 50, started Microsoft in 1975 with childhood friend Paul Allen. He took Microsoft public in 1986 and was the company’s chairman and CEO until 2000, when Ballmer took over as CEO. For the past six years Gates has focused on Microsoft’s software development as the company’s chairman and chief software architect. In 2000, with his wife, he formed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose assets now are $29.1 billion.

For an idea of what a profitable investment was when Microsoft went public, a $5000 investment in 1986 would be worth millions today.

In January 2000, Gates transferred the daily activities and the title of CEO to Steve Ballmer to assume the role of chief software architect. Ozzie and Mundie are the latest stage of an expansion of leadership and transfer of power.

“This is a very sensible and thorough approach. A two-year transition will ensure that the company has a smooth transfer of strategy and knowledge from Bill to the next generation of leaders,” said James I. Cash, Ph.D., member of the Microsoft board of directors and former James E. Robison Professor, Harvard Business School. “Steve and his management team are very impressive, and I’m confident the company will not miss a step.”

Ozzie, 50, worked on the first electronic spreadsheet, VisiCalc, in the early 1980s, then joined Lotus Development Corp. in 1983 to develop Lotus Symphony, an MS-DOS-based integrated software management product that combined word processing, spreadsheet, business graphics, data management and communications capabilities. In 1984, Ozzie formed Iris Associates Inc. to develop Lotus Notes.
In 1997 Ozzie founded Groove Networks, where he developed Groove Virtual Office. Microsoft acquired Groove Networks in April 2005 and named Ozzie chief technical officer.

Mundie, 56, joined Microsoft in 1992 to create and run the Consumer Platforms Division, which was responsible for developing non-PC platform and service offerings including the Microsoft Windows CE operating system; software for handheld PCs, Pocket PCs and Auto PCs; and early telephony products. Mundie also started Microsoft’s digital TV efforts and acquired and managed the WebTV Networks Inc. subsidiary. Mundie is also the original champion of the Trustworthy Computing Initiative at Microsoft, which has influenced Microsoft’s software development strategy. His current responsibilities also include global technology policy and a variety of technical and business incubation activities.

Ozzie and Mundie will continue to report to Gates. At an appropriate time during the two-year transition period, they will shift to reporting to Ballmer.

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Gates Announces Semi-Retirement
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