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Microsoft CEO Ballmer should go, investor says

David Einhorn, manager of the Greenlight Capital fund, says Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive since 2000, should 'give someone else a chance.' He says Ballmer's presence weighs down the stock.

May 27, 2011|By David Sarno, Los Angeles Times
  • Gates began his friendship with Steve Ballmer in their freshman year at Harvard. Ballmer succeeded Gates as Microsoft CEO in 2000.
Gates began his friendship with Steve Ballmer in their freshman year at… (Ted S. Warren / Associated…)

Microsoft Corp. chief Steve Ballmer should surrender the throne, a well-known hedge fund investor says.

David Einhorn, the manager of the Greenlight Capital fund, said Ballmer, who has been Microsoft's chief executive since 2000, should "give someone else a chance."

"His continued presence is the biggest overhang on Microsoft's stock," Einhorn said at an investment conference Wednesday, according to a report from Reuters, which later added that a source close to Microsoft said directors still supported Ballmer.

Ballmer has been at Microsoft since 1980 and was the first business manager hired by co-founder Bill Gates.

Einhorn, whose fund owns about 9 million Microsoft shares, has in years past used speeches at the Ira Sohn conference in New York to skewer foundering companies, including a prescient 2008 discussion of why his firm believed the now-failed investment bank Lehman Bros. was in dire straits.

Although Microsoft continues to reap huge profits from sales of its Office and Windows software that run on hundreds of millions of computers around the world, the company's stock has remained notoriously static, hovering around $25 to $30 a share for much of the last decade.

Last year Apple Inc., a longtime Microsoft rival and once a tiny upstart in comparison, became larger than Microsoft in terms of market value. And on Tuesday, IBM Corp. — also a rival that Microsoft famously overtook in the PC business in the 1990s — caught and passed Microsoft by market value. (Microsoft, which saw a 2% increase in stock price Thursday, is back in front of IBM for now.)

Microsoft has been playing catch-up in several markets, including search with Bing, its competitor to Google, and its Windows Phone. The company announced a new version of the phone's software this week.

david.sarno@latimes.com

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