It’s looking all but certain now that Satya Nadella will be Microsoft’s next CEO, but another interesting question has popped up in the past few days: What role will Bill Gates play in the company’s new era?
Bloomberg News reports today that Gates is likely to become more heavily involved in product development, working at the company for one day a week. Under the plan being discussed, Gates would step down as the chairman of Microsoft’s board, in part to free up his time for this role inside the company.
This isn’t entirely new. Dating back to his departure from Microsoft’s executive offices in 2008, Gates has talked about spending the equivalent of a day a week working on Microsoft projects. But in this new role he would reportedly be focused more on products than on administration.
Gates hasn’t been involved in day-to-day operations at Microsoft for five years, which is both good and bad. On the one hand, he would be coming in with relatively fresh eyes, without a lot of the baggage that a just-departing CEO like Steve Ballmer would bring.
But Gates these days can sound a bit out of touch, or at least frozen in time, when discussing his vision for the future of technology. For example, here’s how Gates responded to Jimmy Fallon’s recent question about where technology is headed.
“The thing that will really change computing is the computer’s ability to see, to listen, to talk, to recognize your handwriting. It will make it a lot more pervasive. So instead of just working on one screen, you’re going to have multiple screens, you can move around, you’ll have multiple people working with the application. So this idea that it’s mostly a keyboard and just that one screen is going to be broken wide open.”
OK, so it’s not easy to be a tech visionary when talking to a general audience on the couch of a late-night talk show, but many of those things are exactly what Gates was saying in his final years at the company. The idea of having multiple people working inside an application isn’t exactly groundbreaking in 2014. Talking computers aren’t novel to anyone who has used Siri or similar apps.
But Bill Gates is Bill Gates, and it would still be fascinating to see what happens if he can get more engaged with Microsoft’s products in this new era. Gates has made it clear that he would defer to the new CEO’s preferences about his involvement in the company, so the fact that this is coming up now signals that Nadella wants Gates to be involved in that way.
At the very least, the Microsoft co-founder and original CEO would be able to help Nadella navigate the new position, while delivering an important message of confidence in Microsoft’s new leader inside the company and to the broader world.
Based on what we’re hearing, the official announcement should come any day now.