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TheStreet Open House

It Wasn't Supposed to Be Like This for Bill Gates

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's kind of shocking to me that activist investor ValueAct and two other large Microsoft (MSFT) investors are pushing for Bill Gates to step down from the board, according to a Reuters report.

This is the guy who started Microsoft. He's the richest man in the world.

On the one hand, Wall Street has long believed that Microsoft is bloated and due for a major restructuring. It has pleaded its case in vain to Steve Ballmer for years.

Microsoft has underperformed the Nasdaq for 15 years now. Over that time, the Nasdaq is up 133% while Microsoft is up 28%.

That's frustrating for many investors, especially when you consider that IBM (IBM) is up more than 170% over the same period.

At long last, activists have the upper hand with Microsoft. They've already forced out Steve Ballmer, which the board preferred to facing a proxy battle. And, now, they are going after Gates.

I expect Gates to stand firm and tell them to go pound sand. And this will probably be enough to stave them off.

That said, Gates has only himself to blame for the Microsoft's current mess.

Arguably, he left too soon in his career, vacating the top post so that Ballmer could take it.

And he really left, throwing himself into his philanthropic work. There were no founder issues with Gates tinkering too much. In fact, he didn't tinker enough.

Gates left everything to Ballmer. Every complaint that any investor has had with Microsoft over the past 15 years relating to Steve Ballmer can land squarely at Gates' feet as he's always given Ballmer his tacit support.

The amorphous business units. The being late to mobile. The slowness in responding to competitive threats. The fighting too many battles on too many fronts. The one-time special dividend that was a great payout for Gates but not other shareholders.

But there was one more statistic that really shocked me the other day tweeted out by CNBC's tech correspondent Jon Fortt:

"Bill Gates's stake in $MSFT 13 years ago: 13.7%. Today: 4.5%. Steve Ballmer's stake in 2000: 4.5%. Today: 3.95%"

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