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Influential investor says Microsoft's Ballmer should step aside

May 26, 2011 |  9:00 am

Ballmer

Microsoft Corp. chief Steve Ballmer should surrender the throne, a well-known hedge fund investor said in New York on Wednesday.

David Einhorn, the manager of the Greenlight Capital fund, said Ballmer, who has been at Microsoft since 1980 and was the first business manager hired by Bill Gates, should "give someone else a chance."

"His continued presence is the biggest overhang on Microsoft's stock," Einhorn said at an investment conference, according to a report from Reuters.  Ballmer has been Microsoft's chief executive since Gates handed him the reins in 2000.

Einhorn and his fund are substantial investors in Microsoft, owning close to 9 million shares of the company, or approximatly 0.11% of its shares.

Although Microsoft continues to reap huge profits from sales of its Office and Windows software that runs on hundreds of millions of computers around the world, the company's stock has remained notoriously static, hovering between about $25 and $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 -- also a rival that Microsoft famously overtook in the PC business in the 1990s -- caught and passed Microsoft by market value.  (Microsoft, which has seen a 2.5% 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 earlier this week.

Updated, 1:43 p.m.: Reuters is reporting that the Microsoft board of directors still backs Ballmer, according to "a source close to the board.  The report did not offer any other detail.

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Image: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at CeBit in Hanover, Germany, in 2008. Credit: Kay Nietfeld / European Pressphoto Agency

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