Yesterday, many people started wondering whether Bill Gates will return to Microsoft after some unsourced rumours began circulating.
This is laughable of course. Gates never really left the company and remains chairman of the board. He still gives orders. He's still seen roaming the halls at the Redmond compound. Perhaps the better question is: When is Gates actually going to leave Microsoft?
As for Gates becoming the operational CEO, forget it – there's no way he can come out on top. If he returned and all of a sudden the company began to flourish again, people would call him incompetent for putting Ballmer in charge when he clearly wasn’t capable of keeping the ship afloat. In the more likely outcome, which would result in either little change or a quickened decline, he would be mocked for hubris and for being out of touch. Neither of these scenarios is worth it. Although, I could guarantee his CES keynote would be more entertaining than the alternatives.
And remember, Gates himself has changed. Now he is a featured guest on all sorts of talk shows where he pontificates for a living. During the go-go years at Microsoft, he would mingle with "the people" at user group meetings. He'd be at trade shows and events where he'd engage in discussions with the hard-working technical class. Now he only associates with the elites at places like Davos and the Allen & Company enclaves where he chats with the likes of Rupert Murdoch while sipping Kistler Chardonnay.
This is not the Bill Gates we once knew. He's no longer the amusingly competitive but normal guy obsessed with Microsoft. Now he gets the red carpet treatment all around the world and the seat next to the emperor of some hinky country trying to attract some cold Gates Foundation cash.
Nobody can transition from a caviar lifestyle to mere CEO slouch status. What would be the point?
I can hear people calling him a copycat already. They'd make a fuss that Gates only returned because Steve Jobs did. The joke, of course, is that Microsoft is actually doing well compared to how Apple was doing before Jobs came back.
So let me summarise: Bill Gates is not making a comeback as the operational CEO of Microsoft. He's having too much fun hob-nobbing with the rich and famous to step back and deal with the hoi polloi.