Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates said he and other directors have met with “a lot of CEO candidates” to replace Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer.
The board met yesterday to discuss some of the candidates, Gates said at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Bellevue, Washington, Ballmer’s last before he steps down. Gates said he wouldn’t give a timeline for the decision.
The world’s largest software maker is going through its biggest transition in decades, seeking a new leader while it shifts to a new corporate structure focused on devices and services. Microsoft is also buying Nokia Oyj’s handset unit, its largest acquisition by number of employees. The new CEO will have to keep pace with a shift among consumers and businesses to mobile devices and Web-delivered software.
“It’s a complex role to fill,” Gates said. He and Ballmer “share a commitment” to finding the right CEO, Microsoft’s co- founder said, choking up as he spoke.
The Redmond, Washington-based company earlier this year became the target of activist shareholder ValueAct Holdings LP and an August agreement between the two gave the investor the option of appointing a director at the first board meeting of 2014.
The company’s directors, including Ballmer, were re-elected by a majority. Shareholder advisory firm Glass Lewis had recommended withholding votes for lead independent director John Thompson, who is also leading the CEO search committee. Glass Lewis expressed concern that Thompson is the CEO of startup Virtual Instruments Inc., which received $2.3 million from Microsoft in fiscal 2013 for software and equipment. Glass Lewis considered this a conflict of interest.
The directors are seeking to narrow the list of CEO candidates to three to five, a person with knowledge of the matter said last week. The board is aiming to have a final choice as soon as next month, three people said.
--Editors: Reed Stevenson, Pui-Wing Tam
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