Bill Gates has stepped down from the boards of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway, at once cutting his last formal tie to the software company he founded 45 years ago while also marking a turning point in his close personal friendship with investor Warren Buffett.
Microsoft said that Mr Gates was leaving the board to “dedicate more time to his philanthropic priorities”, but that he would remain an informal technical adviser to Satya Nadella, chief executive, and other senior executives.
Berkshire Hathaway did not give a reason, beyond noting in the proxy statement ahead of its annual shareholder meeting that Mr Gates was retiring from its board.
In a statement on LinkedIn, which is now owned by Microsoft, Mr Gates said he was stepping back to “effectively prioritise my commitment to addressing some of the world’s toughest challenges”, including “global health and development, education, and my increasing engagement in tackling climate change”.
Describing his time on the Berkshire Hathaway board as “one of the greatest honours of my career”, he said: “Warren and I were the best of friends long before I joined and will be long after.” He added that Microsoft would “always be an important part of my life’s work”, and that he would continue to be engage with the company’s leadership “to help shape the vision and achieve the company’s ambitious goals”.
The twin departures, announced after the stock market closed on Friday, signal Mr Gates’ final retreat from the public business world. He has shifted his attention progressively towards philanthropy and private venture investing for more than a decade, though until this week he had retained a position on the boards of two of the world’s most valuable public companies.
Mr Gates stepped down as chief executive of Microsoft at the start of 2000, as the company was in the middle of a bruising battle with US antitrust regulators. He left his full-time role completely in 2008 to shift his attention to the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but continued to serve as chairman until 2014.
Mr Gates, a one-time bridge partner of Mr Buffett, has been a staple at the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting in Omaha each year. He was often seen standing behind the 89-year-old investor as he tossed newspapers on to the doorstep of a model home from Berkshire portfolio company Clayton Homes, and then sitting close to the stage where Mr Buffett and Charlie Munger, Berkshire vice-chair, answered stockholder questions.
Mr Buffett agreed to donate the bulk of his fortune to the Gates Foundation in 2006, saying at the time that Mr Gates and his wife “applied truly unusual intelligence, energy and heart to improving the lives of millions of fellow humans who have not been as lucky as the three of us”.
Mr Gates’ departure from the Berkshire Hathaway board after 16 years had knock-on effects across other boardrooms, as the company nominated Ken Chenault, the former chief executive of American Express, to replace him. Mr Chenault simultaneously announced his departure from the board of Facebook.
In a statement issued by the social networking company, Mr Chenault said: “I am stepping down from the board because I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work more closely with my friend Warren Buffett, the Berkshire Hathaway board and the management team. I also believe good corporate governance entails limiting the number of board commitments for any director.”