June 26, 2008, 8:52 PM — In just a few short days, Bill Gates will enter retired life and leave active duty as the head honcho of Microsoft. For years, he has told us that this day would come, but he was never willing to admit when and for a long time, I figured it never would.
Gates is not only a workaholic, but someone who loves his company more than any other CEO I've ever seen and has a competitive streak that's second to none. If it weren't for Google and Apple, he would have been gone a long time ago.
Everyone else is talking about Bill Gates' legacy and what he has done for the world and what he will continue to do for it, but I'm not. I don't think Bill is retiring at all. He may take an extended leave and travel around the world, but rest assured that he'll be back â€“ in a big way.
Here's how I see things shaping up:
Bill will leave and tell the world in an oddly worded essay that he has enjoyed his time at Microsoft and will continue the fight against disease with his wife by focusing more on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. To reassure shareholders, he'll tell them that he's left the company in good hands and we shouldn't be worried about its future. Those outside this industry will applaud Bill for doing so and fawn over his desire to step down at the height of his power and become a full-time philanthropist.
But after watching Bill Gates for so many years, those of us in the know will see this statement as nothing more than an extended vacation. After taking the rest of the year off, Bill will let Ballmer take care of things back at the mother ship and preside over the degradation of the Microsoft brand.
The way I see it, look for Windows, Internet Explorer, and Live Search to tank after Bill leaves and relinquishes that iron grip he's so famous for having. The company will lose sight of what it is â€“ a software company first â€“ and try to focus on the online space. Google will run circles around it and make it look even more foolish as Apple capitalizes on its negligence on the OS side.
Within the next few years, Microsoft's once powerful suite of software products will feel pressure from outside sources and it'll start to wobble for the first time in history.
By then, Bill Gates â€“ always a man who wants to solidify his legacy â€“ will ride in on his white horse and try to save the day.
Normally, CEOs would gladly walk away a billionaire and never look back at what just happened to their company, but Gates is different.
Unlike so many others, he can't stand the thought of watching Steve Jobs get the upper hand and the very thought that Microsoft isn't the world's most powerful tech company will eat away at him each day. As I said earlier, he is a competitive man.
Once he comes back, he'll take the reins from Ballmer (or whoever is in charge by then) and right the ship to solidify his legacy as the healer, the great savior of Microsoft, and the true leader.
Bill likes to talk about his past and all the great things he has done at Microsoft, but rest assured that he still has one act left in him. With him moving away from daily operations, Microsoft will become more lackadaisical and lose itself somewhere along the way.
And for one of the world's most prominent and influential CEOs, that tarnished legacy is unacceptable.
Bill's not leaving; he's just going on vacation. Trust me, it's not over yet.