Fortune says Gates might rejoin Microsoft? Not so fast

Gates' chief of staff shoots down a report on magazine's Web site, citing a single, anonymous second-hand source, saying that the Microsoft co-founder is contemplating a comeback.

Jay Greene Former Staff Writer
Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).
Jay Greene
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Bill Gates during a recent trip to Chad. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Bill Gates' chief of staff has shot down a report in Fortune that the iconic leader and philanthropist is contemplating a return to Microsoft.

In an instant message conversation, Larry Cohen said that contrary to a report on Fortune's Web site, Gates is not mulling rejoining Microsoft, though he still does work from time to time with product teams. Cohen previously said the same thing to AllThingsD.

Earlier today, the magazine posted an article on its Web site citing a single anonymous, second-hand source, saying that Gates was contemplating a comeback.

"One prominent chief executive told Fortune he'd heard from someone close to Gates that he might be considering such a move," according to the article.

Based on that sourcing, Fortune speculated that a Gates return could boost Microsoft's stock price.

A Microsoft spokesman declined to address the report, saying the company doesn't comment on rumors.

Gates stepped away from Microsoft in 2008 to lead his foundation full-time. Since then, he has often talked about how the foundation is his primary work focus. And just a year ago, Fortune published a deeply reported piece about Gates and his life after Microsoft, saying that, for Gates, the software giant "almost seems like an afterthought nowadays."

Gates has been deeply engaged at his foundation, traveling the globe to address inequities in health, global development and education. Last month, for example, Gates addressed the G20 leaders in Cannes, France, describing how innovation in health and agriculture can improve global stability. A week before that, he was in Washington, D.C., to accept the World Food Program USA's George McGovern Leadership Award for the foundation's efforts to help small farmers in the developing world overcome hunger and poverty.

Updated at 1:45 p.m. to add comment from Gates' chief of staff that is refuting the Fortune report.