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Three Top Investors: Bill Gates Must Go Too

Stocks in this article: MSFT

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Three of the company's top 20 investors believe it's time for Bill Gates to step down as chairman of Microsoft (MSFT).

According to a Reuters exclusive report, three stockholders, who together control more than 5% of Microsoft stock, believe Steve Ballmer's exit from Microsoft's CEO post makes it essential that Gates leave as well. They believe the move would give the next boss a clean slate to move the company in a new direction.

Gates personally owns approximately 4.5% of the company he co-founded in the early 1980s. He is the largest individual shareholder.

Microsoft shares were declining 0.31% to $33.47 early Wednesday.

At one point, Gates owned 49% of Microsoft before the company went public in 1986. He reportedly sells approximately 80 million shares each year under a prearranged plan. By 2018, it is expected he will have relinquished all financial ties with the company.

He stepped down from the CEO position in 2000 and handed the reins over to Steve Ballmer. He announced he was leaving the post of Chief Software Office in 2008 to devote more of his time to the $38 billion Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation.

Gates still holds the post of chairman and is a key member of the special committee charged with finding candidates to be the next CEO. So far two names have emerged as possible front-runners for the job.

One top candidate is Stephen Elop, who recently ran Nokia (NOK) and who will soon re-join Microsoft when the phone manufacturer deal is finalized early next year.

Ford's (F) Alan Mulally also has been touted as a possible contender for the job but told USA Today that he "loves serving Ford and have nothing new to add to plans to continue serving Ford."

In late August, Ballmer announced he was leaving the CEO job after 13 years. He said he would stay for as much as a year to help transition to a new leadership team. In accepting the resignation, Microsoft's board said the new CEO will continue Ballmer's business strategies including stressing hardware designs like Surface tablet computers and Xbox gaming devices.

Although demand for Microsoft Windows and Office software has been declining due to pressure from Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) offerings, the company showed a net profit of $22 billion in the past fiscal year.

The three stockholders urging Gates' retirement wish to remain anonymous.

Microsoft said it has no comment on the report.

Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

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