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Ballmer Replaces Gates As Microsoft’s Biggest Shareholder

Douglas A. McIntyre

There may be one or two institutions which own larger blocks of Microsoft (MSFT) than Steve Ballmer does, but for the first time in history, Ballmer owns more shares than Bill Gates, his friend since each went to Harvard in the mid-1970s. Ballmer dropped out of business school to become one of Gates' chief lieutenants, and then replaced Gates as CEO in 2000. He only recently gave up that job.

According to an analysis cited by a large number of media, Ballmer is listed as having 333.2 million shares, to Gates' 330.1 million. Gates continues to sell shares to fund his philanthropic efforts. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is currently one of the largest in the world. It funds project which range from nutrition to polio worldwide. The primary reason Gates left as CEO in 2000 was to spend more time on his charities.

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Ballmer has not been a visible philanthropist. Ballmer was born in March 1956 in Detroit, and lived there for 18 years. He graduated from Harvard in 1977 and then joined Procter & Gamble (PG). He then attended Stanford Business School which he left in 1980 to join Gates. His early career at Microsoft involved marketing the new Windows software which was the critical reason for Microsoft's success. One of the current challenges that the company has is that Windows has become an old generation software used mostly on PCs. Computing has moved largely to portable devices,  which primarily use operating systems including Apple's (AAPL) iOS and Google's (GOOG) Android.

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Ballmer helped expand two other key Microsoft franchises -- MSN, the company's internet portal, and Xbox, which has become one of the most successful game consoles in the world.

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One of the questions often asked about Ballmer is what  he will do with his future. At 58, he is very young to be just the retired CEO of a large company for the rest of his life.

At the very least, whatever he does, he will have plenty of money to fund it.

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