On Friday afternoon, Bill Gates ends his full-time job at Microsoft and the company opens for business after the weekend as if nothing has changed. The ‘transition’, as it is called inside the company, was announced two years ago.
On the face of it, the only difference after 27 June will be that Gates will be non-executive chairman rather than executive chairman, spending just one day a week on Microsoft business.
The new leaders, none much younger than Gates himself, mix warm tributes to their founder with reassurances that all will be fine without him. So Ray Ozzie, who took on Gates’ role as chief software architect two years ago, says the company is now so big there is “no single point of failure”.
And Steve Ballmer, Gates’ long-time partner, and chief executive since 2000, says Microsoft “won’t miss a beat” as a result of next week’s move.
But Gates’ departure has a symbolic value that no amount of PR planning can avoid.
Microsoft staffers who don’t know the official company line happily admit that “Bill is Microsoft”. And outsiders agree:
“No-one speaks Microsoft, lives Microsoft, embodies Microsoft as Bill Gates does,” says Charlene Li, from consultants Forrester Research.