Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Mr. Ballmer Will Not Be Selling His Microsoft Shares No Matter How Much Mr. Sherlund Wants Him To


In a note to investors today full of the already well-reported speculation about the next Microsoft CEO, high-profile analyst Rick Sherlund raised one most definite corker.

Not the assertion that Alan Mulally is the leading candidate, who is likely to be named in December. We knew that and that!

Not that former Microsoft exec Paul Maritz was unlikely to come back to the company. We knew that!

Not that Office 365 for Apple iOS and Google Android was coming soon. Also: We knew that too!

But this was a new one altogether: “Steve Ballmer may decide to leave the board, and Microsoft might consider repurchasing his $12B share position.”

And that, as one Microsoft insider has said, was the “when pigs fly” guess, noting that it would be a fervent dream of some investors to rid the company of longterm and substantial shareholders like Ballmer and also Chairman and co-founder Bill Gates in order to make big changes.

Maybe so, but such a sale is highly unlikely, said many, many sources and also, well, Ballmer in his retirement letter: “I cherish my Microsoft ownership, and look forward to continuing as one of Microsoft’s largest owners.”

According to recent filings, Gates is Microsoft’s largest individual shareholder, with a 4.5 percent stake; Ballmer owns four percent.

The board bomb was much more interesting, given the worries among some that the next CEO of Microsoft might not have as much freedom to change with both Ballmer and Gates on the board.

While the idea of Ballmer stepping down as a director, at least in the short term, is also on the doubtful list, it’s an interesting message — while some at Microsoft consider him a mouthpiece, it’s clear Sherlund is often articulating the sentiments of large outside investors — to grok.

Also fascinating in this endless choice process is the “news” yesterday that the list of candidates is down to five. Actually, with the exception of Maritz, it is the same exact list (Mulally, Nokia’s Stephen Elop and three current Microsoft execs: Tony Bates, Satya Nadella and Qi Lu) from months ago reported here and elsewhere. The longer list that Microsoft’s recruiters compiled was, as most people realize, the company doing its mostly-for-optics effort at saying it looked far and wide and tried real hard to find just the right person to wear the glass slipper.

In other words: Check! We really did talk to a woman and now will go back to our regularly scheduled selection of a white dude to run Microsoft.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work