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Gates' stake in MS – 14 per cent and falling

Only another $60bn of portfolio diversification to go...

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According to Microsoft's proxy statement, as of 8 September Bill Gates' had only 13.7 per cent of Microsoft's shares (worth $43.9 billion at $60), and Steve Ballmer 4.5 per cent (worth $14.4 billion). The 31 executive officers and directors as a group control 18.8 per cent of the company. Mrs Gates has $12.9 million in shares in her own right.

Although general counsel Bill Neukom had a promotion to executive VP, his salary didn't leap ahead of mere group VPs Jim Allchin or Jeff Raikes. CFO Bob Herbold is the highest paid, with $1,010,802 in salary and bonus, while Gates tips the scales at $639,401, marginally ahead of Allchin, Raikes and Ballmer.

The stock options granted to Herbold, Allchin and Raikes are now worth considerably less than when they were granted. Microsoft's stock price performance shows it has done no better than the NASDAQ index since 1996.

Unusually, there are two shareholder proposals for the annual shareholders' meeting on 9 November. One wants Microsoft to report to shareholders on its policies and use of shareholders' funds for political purposes, and states that Microsoft's political contributions make it the fourth largest donor (behind tobacco, phone and freight lobbyists, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics). Another shareholder proposal concerns Microsoft's business practices in China and wants 11 principles for human and labour rights to be observed by the company in its operations there.

In both cases, the Microsoft board is recommending shareholders to vote against the motions, so they are unlikely to be passed because of the proxy votes that will most probably support the board. The democratic process is not exactly helped by a requirement that shareholder proposals must be received by Microsoft nearly six months before the annual meeting, if they are to be included in the proxy statement.

Microsoft has also decided in effect to reduce the size of its board by saying that it had "no immediate plans" to nominate additional board members to replace Paul Allen and Richard Hackborn (previously of HP), who were stepping down. Gates is attributed a rather ungenerous comment about Allen, noting that he was "instrumental in the creation of Microsoft", rather than crediting him with being one of the two founding partners. Allen will be a "senior strategy advisor", but his excuse that attending board meetings was too time consuming does not sound very convincing, since there were only five last year. ®

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