Microsoft founder Bill Gates may be planning a return to a more hands-on role at the company, according to the latest rumors from the software giant's ongoing search for a new chief executive.
Last week, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, and others reported that veteran Microsoft exec Satya Nadella had emerged as the frontrunner for Redmond's CEO seat, after several outside candidates declined the position.
WSJ's sources further claimed that Nadella had asked Gates to "spend more time on technology and strategy" to help ease him into the role – assuming Nadella will get the nod, that is, which is what most everyone is now assuming.
Now Bloomberg has reported that Gates will set aside some of his administrative duties on Microsoft's board of directors, and will spend at least one day a week at the company's Redmond campus, where he will be involved in product development.
As part of that new arrangement, sources say, Gates will step down from his role as chairman of the board, although he will remain a director alongside outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer.
Gates' ouster as chairman, if it does go down, could come as welcome news to investors who have reportedly been clamoring for new blood in the boardroom.
But the idea that Gates would use his newfound free time to meddle with Microsoft's products might not sit well with those who argue that the software giant has remained mired in the past since Gates resigned as CEO in 2000.
Gates is known as one of the pioneers of the PC era. But PCs have lately taken a backseat to smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, and it's not clear that Gates – or anyone from Microsoft's old guard, for that matter – has a persuasive vision for how Redmond should operate in today's market.
Then again, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 – initially only in an advisory role – it triggered the beginning of a winning streak that eventually propelled Cupertino to become the highest-valued company in the world. But many would argue that Gates is no Steve Jobs.
"Bill Gates wants people to think he's Edison, when he's really Rockefeller," Jobs' longtime pal, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, once told Newsweek. "Though I wouldn't mind being Rockefeller either. But referring to Gates as the smartest man in America isn't right. I'm not the fourth smartest man in America. Wealth isn't the same thing as intelligence."
Speaking of which, so far there has been no mention of whether Gates – who remains the world's richest man, despite having vowed to give all of his money away – would draw a salary for his new part-time gig at Microsoft, should he get the job. ®