Ballmer Becomes Largest Individual Microsoft Shareholder

Steve Ballmer, the former chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp., became the company’s biggest individual shareholder yesterday after Bill Gates sold

4.6 million shares of the world’s largest software maker.

The 58-year-old, who retired Feb. 4 after serving 33 years at the Redmond, Washington-based company, owns 333.2 million shares of Microsoft, 3.1 million more than Gates. Ballmer has collected about $3.4 billion selling shares since the company’s 1986 initial public offering, and has a net worth of $18.8 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

“It’s not an event in and of itself, but it is symbolic in that it speaks to what has taken place at Microsoft over the last 10 years,” Daniel Ives, a New York-based analyst at FBR Capital Markets & Co., said by phone. “There’s been a passing of the guard.”

Ballmer joined Microsoft as employee No. 30 in 1980 after Gates persuaded him to drop out of Stanford University’s business school. He rose to the rank of president and then took over for Gates as CEO in 2000.

Bridgett Arnold, a spokeswoman for Gates, declined to comment in an e-mail. Microsoft spokesman Peter Wootton also declined to comment.

Microsoft fell 31 cents to close at $39.69 in New York.

Revenue tripled under Ballmer’s tenure, even as the company struggled to compete with Apple Inc. and Google Inc. in areas such as mobile phones, tablet computers and Internet search.

“The thing I regret is that we didn’t put the hardware and the software together soon enough,” Ballmer said in a talk at Oxford University’s Said Business School on March 4.

Ballmer said in August he intended to retire within 12 months. He was replaced in February by Satya Nadella who, in an effort to reignite growth, appointed former political operative Mark Penn in the new role of chief strategy officer.

Gates, 58, stepped down as chairman that month and said in a statement that he would devote more time to product development as technology adviser. He remains the world’s richest person with a $79.9 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg ranking.

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