Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is departing the company’s board of directors, marking the end of an era.
Though the announcement may have been abrupt, it wasn’t really a surprise. In truth, Gates has been gradually stepping away from the company for the better part of the past 20 years.
In a press release, Microsoft said Gates, 64, was planning to focus more on his philanthropic work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Meanwhile Microsoft, which has operated over the past two decades under the reign of two dramatically different chief executives apart from Gates, is enjoying a renaissance under CEO Satya Nadella.
Gates stepped down as CEO of Microsoft back in 2000, naming his college classmate Steve Ballmer as the new chief. Ballmer’s era had its share of hits and also misses, with questionable launches like the failed iPod alternative Zune, Surface tablets, and Windows Vista. Since taking over as CEO in 2014, Nadella has moved Microsoft in a more promising direction, focusing on growing Azure, its cloud segment, as well as its augmented-reality offerings.
Gate’s decamping follows the December announcement that Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were handing over the reins to the current CEO, Sundar Pichai. In the case of both Microsoft and Google, the torch-passing is mostly symbolic. Both Pichai and Nadella have played central roles in crafting new company cultures that seem worlds away from the cultures their companies’ founders built.
Gates’ departure is even less of a surprise in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. In 2018, Gates, whose family foundation is focused in large part on healthcare, warned that the world wasn’t prepared for a pandemic, and that this “should concern us all.” Just this week, the Gates Foundation announced it is working on a plan to deliver coronavirus test kits to Seattle homes, near Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, in coordination with Amazon Care.