|UND economists say Microsoft positioned to weather departure of Bill Gates|
University of North Dakota economist David Flynn says that computer software giant Microsoft Corp. is well prepared for next week's long-planned departure of its chairman and founder, Bill Gates.
He added it's unlikely the company will have to follow the same path as its competitor, Apple, Inc., which several years ago, had to call back a high-profile former boss to bail it out.
"I don't think you're going to see that kind of stagnation at Microsoft, where Bill Gates would have to come back," said Flynn, who is director of UND's Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
Flynn said Gates, though still wearing the chairman title, has been out of the Microsoft picture for about two years, as company CEO Steve Ballmer has been running the operation and leading the company through economic ups-and-downs, including trying to figure out how to compete with "Google" and an attempt to combine with "Yahoo!" Gates officially will step down as head of Microsoft Tuesday after 33 years of growing the software upstart into the world's dominant computer operating system, and in the process, becoming one of the richest men on the planet.
"You're probably not going to have many risks for stockholders, either, because Gates hasn't been hands-on for a long time," Flynn said. "I am sure that he'll still be available for counsel and advice."
The transition wasn't as smooth for Apple, Inc. in 1985, when another computing pioneer, Steve Jobs, abruptly quit the company he helped start after a power struggle with the board of directors. Eleven years later, Jobs was back at Apple after its directors lost confidence in then-CEO Gil Amelio. The company's stock had just hit a 12-year low.
Patrick O'Neill, professor and chair of the Department of Economics, said the future of Microsoft may hinge on how quickly and successfully it can prove itself with a new product without Gates at the helm.
"The biggest impact is the loss of the name and prestige," he said. "I would suggest that the most likely outcome would be a short-term period of questioning that might cause a short-term hit in its stock price. You can have a hit in stock prices if the new people don't come out strong right away."
Flynn said economists and computer-industry watchers also are curious to see whether a new culture or attitude is introduced at Microsoft with Gates gone. He said one of Microsoft's strengths has been that it was an informal and positive place for employees.
"The question is 'do they become more like an IBM culture with the white bottom-up shirts and black suits,'" Flynn said.
Flynn said, as Gates rides off into retirement, those who might have the most to gain are people on the receiving end of his charity work. In 2000, Gates and his wife, Melinda, combined three family foundations into the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has become "the largest transparently operated charitable foundation in the world." "Forbes" magazine reported that the foundation gave away about $29 billion to various charities between 2000 and 2004.
"He'll now be able to work full-time on the foundation," Flynn said. "You just might see a real push by him in that philanthropic direction."
Gates' net worth was calculated to be about $58 billion this year.