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Gates talks Microsoft CEO search: Nothing to see, move along

Acknowledges urgency in picking Ballmer's replacement

Microsoft chairman, Bill Gates, dodged questions yesterday about the lengthening search for a new chief executive to run the company he co-founded nearly 39 years ago.

"The board's working on that," Gates said during an interview on Bloomberg Television Tuesday when asked about his role in the search. "There's nothing new to say. But it's a good board."

Gates' reference to an amorphous board was somewhat disingenuous, as he is not only the board's chairman but also on the five-member CEO-search committee tasked with finding someone to replace current CEO, Steve Ballmer. By all accounts, Gates has been very active in the hunt.

The committee also includes John Thompson, until 2009 the CEO of Symantec; Chuck Noski, formerly of Bank of America; Seagate CEO Steve Luczo; and Ballmer.

In the same interview, Gates was asked whether there's any urgency to picking a CEO.

"Yeah. I think you'd always feel that way," Gates said. "Then again, you want to pick the best person. So they'll...they'll...they'll move at the right pace."

Gates' answers were similar to the vague comments he made last November at Microsoft's shareholders meeting, when he said, "We're pleased with our progress and feel that we're going through the process that will get the best person for the job."

Gates also again said he has no intention of returning to lead Microsoft, a fantasy some have entertained in the hope that he could rekindle the magic and move the firm he co-founded with Paul Allen to greener -- meaning relevant in mobile -- pastures.

"My full-time work will be the foundation for the rest of my life," said Gates of his philanthropy. "I'm not going to change, although I'll help out [at Microsoft] part time."

The only timeline Microsoft has committed to is August, 12 months after Ballmer unexpectedly announced that he was retiring. Five weeks ago, however, Thompson, the director leading the search committee, said a new CEO would be appointed in early 2014, a message meant to calm the investor waters as Wall Street became increasingly nervous about the time it was taking and the fading candidacy of Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally, who subsequently took himself out of the running.

Since the December 4 high for Microsoft's stock, shares have fallen about 7.5 per cent, lowering the paper value of Gate's and Ballmer's holdings by billions. Each man owns about 4% of the firm.

Microsoft will hold its quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts Thursday starting at 2:30 p.m. PT, but it is not expected to announce a new CEO at that time.

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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