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Report: Investors lobbying for Microsoft chairman Bill Gates to step down

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Investors in Microsoft Corp. are pressing for chairman Bill Gates, who founded the software company in 1975 and has been heavily involved in it since, to step down from his position, sources told Reuters.

According to the report, three of the company's top 20 investors are lobbying the board for Gates' removal. The report notes that while Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has been the target of public criticism before, this is the first time shareholders are looking to Gates, who himself is the largest individual shareholder in the company, owning about 4.5 percent of the $277 billion corporation.

Reuters reports there is currently "no indication" that the board would ask Gates to step down. The three shareholders asking for his removal, who will remain anonymous due to the private nature of their discussions, hold more than 5 percent collectively in the company.

The investors expressed concern that Gates' role "effectively blocks the adoption of new strategies" and would impede the power of a new CEO — Ballmer's successor, as he is reported to retire later this year — looking to make substantial changes within the company. The investors also stated Gates uses power "out of proportion" with his slowly declining stake in the company's shares. The news that these three investors are lobbying for Gates' removal have drawn mixed responses from other company shareholders.

"This is long overdue," said Todd Lowenstein, a Microsoft shareholder who is a portfolio manager at HighMark Capital Management. "Replacing the old guard with some fresh eyes can provide the oxygen needed to properly evaluate their corporate strategy."

"I've thought that the company has been missing a technology visionary," added Kim Caughey Forrest, senior analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group. "Bill (Gates) would fit the bill." Forrest suggested that now is an inopportune time to lose Gates, who may do better serving in a larger role within the company.

Gates is part of the search committee for Ballmer's successor. Ballmer will remain CEO at Microsoft until a replacement is found.