When former Microsoft CEO and current board member Steve Ballmer said he was "very interested" in the company's future, he wasn't kidding. As of Wednesday, Ballmer became Redmond's largest individual shareholder, with a stake even greater than that of founder Bill Gates.
The switcheroo wasn't because Ballmer acquired new shares, but because Gates sold some of his. According to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday, Gates has unloaded 4,600,000 shares, worth a total of around $185.6m at the time they sold.
That leaves the world's perennially richest man with 330,141,164 shares of Microsoft stock, a hoard worth $13.1bn as of Friday's closing bell on Wall Street.
Ballmer, on the other hand, has been hanging onto his shares for the last few years. SEC records show that the last time he sold any was in 2010, a transaction that left him with 333,252,990 shares, which would have been worth $13.2bn at Friday's price.
Neither man holds the largest single stake in the company. That honor goes to investment fund the Vanguard group, with 372,597,444 shares now valued at $14.8bn. The State Street Corporation also owned 343,007,487 shares ($13.6bn) as of December 31, Morningstar reports. But Ballmer and then Gates are next on the list.
And with 3.1 million more Microsoft shares in his portfolio than Gates, for the first time Ballmer technically has more influence as a shareholder of the company than does Gates – although the advantage is slight, to say the least. While Gates was once chairman of Microsoft's board, he ceded that role to Microsoft board member and former Symantec CEO John Thompson in February, putting himself on equal footing with Ballmer in the boardroom.
But Gates now has a more hands-on role at Microsoft than Ballmer does, having taken a new position at the company as a "technology adviser" to freshly minted CEO Satya Nadella.
Ballmer, by comparison, claims to no longer have any direct involvement with Redmond's operations. In March, he told a group of students at Oxford University's Saïd Business School, "As a board member, you're a board member. You govern; you don't lead. I speak about our company today historically because I'm a former CEO."
With a personal stake in the company worth approximately 4 per cent of its value, however, you can bet Ballmer will continue to follow Microsoft's progress with a keen eye. ®