When will Bill Gates retire?
Not anytime soon, that's for sure. But the question resurfaced again today when the Microsoft chief executive officer was visiting Singapore.
"I can certainly say that in 10 years' time or so, it probably would make sense to have somebody younger who's the CEO, making the top decisions," Gates, 42, told a forum in Singapore, according to a report from Agence France-Presse.
He went on to say: "It's a fast-moving business. I certainly can't imagine a 50-year-old person running Microsoft, whether it's me or anybody else."
A Microsoft spokesman said today he was surprised that Gates's comments drew so much attention. They were not new, and he cautioned not to read too much into them. Gates's typical response to the retirement question has been, "Maybe 10 years from now, but there's too many exciting things going on right now," the spokesman said. He added, "There's no time he's putting on it; it's kind of vague."
The question interests many people, however, because it would be hard to imagine Microsoft without Gates. As Business Week put it today, when it named the software giant the No. 1 financial performer in its annual ranking: "Under Gates's leadership it has racked up a record of annual profit and revenue increases that is the envy of corporate America."
In addition, many giant American companies are being run by "50-somethings." Take IBM, for example: Lou Gerstner, who has been successful at turning around Big Blue, is 56 years old.
Another issue: If you're as rich as Gates, more than $40 billion at last count, why not take time to smell the roses? Sure, Gates has been traveling around the world lately, rather than sitting behind his desk. But being a high-technology ambassador can be stressful, too--like getting a cream pastry thrown in your face as he did in Brussels, Belgium, last month.
After retiring, Gates said he would like to spend time discussing developments with software producers "and have somebody else worry about the nuts and bolts about being the CEO," according to the Agence France-Presse report.
Does Microsoft have a succession plan? "It's never come up," the Microsoft spokesman said. "We'll think about those things when it's appropriate."
The rest of Microsoft's top brass includes Steve Ballmer, executive vice president, sales and support; Bob Herbold, executive vice president and chief operating officer; Paul Maritz, group vice president, platforms and applications; and Pete Higgins, group vice president, interactive media group. Herbold is in his 50s but the rest are in their 40s, like Gates.