Microsoft Watch

Ballmer hints he may step down from Microsoft board

'I have the luxury&to figure out what might be fun,' he said three weeks ago

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Microsoft's former CEO, Steve Ballmer, hinted that he may soon step down from the company's board, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

"It really as much as anything depends on how I see the rest of my life playing out," Ballmer told the publication ( subscription required), referring to his plans for remaining on the board of directors.

Ballmer, 58, said in the interview that after nearly 34 years with Microsoft, "I have a chance to really think" about what's next.

And Ballmer, unlike most people, has options. He is currently the second-largest individual Microsoft shareholder, owning about 4% of the company's shares. Co-founder Bill Gates still holds the top spot, but he has been selling approximately 80 million shares annually, and assuming that continues, will slide into second place behind Ballmer during the June quarter.

Ballmer's Microsoft holdings were worth about $13.3 billion at Monday's early price.

Ballmer was reelected to Microsoft's board last year -- directors there face reelection annually -- but his presence, as well as Gates,' has been a concern for investors, who believe that new CEO Satya Nadella will be constrained with the two former chief executives looking over his shoulder.

If Ballmer does step down, those worries would be alleviated.

Gates left the chairmanship of the board last month when Nadella was appointed, and was replaced by John Thompson, a former IBM and Symantec executive. Gates committed to working part-time at Microsoft as an advisor to Nadella on product and technology issues. Gates retained his seat on the board, however.

Ballmer's comments to the Wall Street Journal gibed with those he made at his first public appearance since he stepped down as CEO. At that event three weeks ago, hosted by the Said Business School, University of Oxford, Ballmer said, "I get to find some new set of things to be passionate about. I get the luxury of really trying to figure out what might be fun to make a difference in the world. And I don't want to default to something that's obvious, so I'm gonna take some time and really figure it out, and say 'What will be the thing that will switch me on from age 58 to age 70?'"

But even if he does leave the board, Ballmer said he would continue to closely follow the company. "I own 4% of Microsoft. I care a lot about my child [emphasis in original. And my investment."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is

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