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Bill Gates. (GeekWire File Photo)
Bill Gates at an event in Seattle in 2015. (GeekWire File Photo)

Bill Gates sold more than $1.5 billion worth of Microsoft stock in 2015 — topping the list of U.S. corporate insiders who sold the most stock in their companies through Dec. 5 of this year, according to new research published today by news alerting service Sqoop.

But the bigger news is that Gates sold far fewer Microsoft shares in 2015 than he has in years past. That trend part of a broader plan to ensure that he’ll remain a significant shareholder in the company that he co-founded four decades ago.

Gates sold a total of 32 million Microsoft shares in 2015, raising $1.51 billion, not counting stock gifts. (Note: Number of shares sold in 2015 corrected since original post.) That was down from more than 68 million shares in 2014, which yielded more than $3.35 billion at the time, according to GeekWire’s analysis of Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

Bill Gates, third from right, with other Microsoft board members at the company's December 2015 shareholder meeting. (GeekWire File Photo)
Bill Gates, third from right, with other Microsoft board members at the company’s December 2015 shareholder meeting. (GeekWire File Photo)

Gates, who is no longer chairman but remains a member of the Microsoft board, divests Microsoft stock on a regular schedule based on a pre-established program, diversifying his portfolio and funding the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the process. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer became the company’s largest shareholder last year, thanks to Gates’ sales.

Gates told CNBC in 2014, “I sold for over a decade the same number of shares every quarter,” Gates said. “That plan lasts through the end of this year (2014). I’m going to retain a lot of Microsoft’s stock.”

Despite selling fewer shares, Gates landed atop the list of U.S. corporate insider sales in 2015, in terms of dollar value, in part because the company’s share price has been climbing steadily under CEO Satya Nadella. Microsoft is currently trading above $54 a share, up more than 48 percent over the past two years, thanks in part to investor confidence in its cloud strategy.

(See Previous Story: Goldman Sachs upgrades Microsoft stock and admits, “We were wrong’)

Here is Sqoop’s list of top 10 corporate insiders selling stock for the past year, which is dominated by tech executives including Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. See the Sqoop blog post for the larger rankings and more details.

Rank Company Insider Amount US$
1 MICROSOFT CORP GATES WILLIAM H III 1,513,748,353
2 GOOGLE INC. Page Lawrence 867,986,934
3 GOOGLE INC. Brin Sergey 857,259,351
4 Facebook Inc Koum Jan 560,780,977
5 AMAZON COM INC BEZOS JEFFREY P 533,893,354
6 CARNIVAL PLC ARISON MICKY MEIR 433,700,000
7 TWITTER, INC. Williams Evan Clark 359,972,721
8 BEST BUY CO INC SCHULZE RICHARD M 292,219,863
9 FAMILY DOLLAR STORES INC LEVINE HOWARD R 278,809,852
10 Alphabet Inc. Brin Sergey 247,339,218
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