Microsoft co-founder and former CEO Bill Gates announced Friday that he’s stepping down from the company’s board, planning to “dedicate more time to his philanthropic priorities” in global health, education, and climate change, according to BBC News. His philanthropic work has often focused on addressing disease and epidemics, and his announcement comes as the world faces the rising COVID-19 pandemic.
He will continue to serve the company as “technology advisor” to CEO Satya Nadella.
The move is only his latest step to diminish his role at Microsoft and to focus on philanthropy through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He stepped down as CEO in 2000, and left his full-time position at Microsoft in 2008. In 2014, Nadella asked Gates to return to serve in his current “technology advisor” role.
He’s served on the company’s board for 34 years, since 1986.
The former CEO’s philanthropic efforts have long focused on epidemics and the threat of a global pandemic. Although Gates has been gradually stepping away from Microsoft for two decades, this latest step comes as the world faces a mounting crisis surrounding the novel coronavirus, declared a pandemic this week by the WHO. In 2008 when he stepped down as a full-time software architect, Gates said he wanted to focus on the most pressing, important issues facing the world.
At the time, he told Wired’s Steven Levy about a decision over what Malaria vaccine to support:
“One of those paths saves millions of lives, compared to the other path. I’ve never had a Microsoft decision that had exactly that character.”
And now, those issues have never been more pressing. Gates wrote in a blog post last month:
“In addition to the perennial challenge, we face an immediate crisis. In the past week, COVID-19 has started to behave a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about.”
In announcing the new move, Gates said Microsoft will “always be an important part of my life’s work,” and that he would remain involved in leading the company.
“I am looking forward to this next phase as an opportunity to maintain the friendships and partnerships that have meant the most to me, continue to contribute to two companies of which I am incredibly proud, and effectively prioritize my commitment to addressing some of the world’s toughest challenges.”
Photo by World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)