Shares of software giant Microsoft leaped up on Thursday amid reports that a group of investors, led by influential hedge fund manager David Einhorn, want CEO Steve Ballmer to quit.
Einhorn, the manager of the Greenlight Capital Fund and a long-time Microsoft shareholder, said Ballmer's continued presence is the biggest overhand on Microsoft's stock. Ballmer, who was been at Microsoft since 1980, replaced Bill Gates as the CEO since 2000.
Ballmer's problem is that he's stuck in the past, Einhorn told the audience gathered at the annual Ira Sohn Investment Research Conference in New York on Wednesday. He's allowed competitors to beat Microsoft in huge areas, including search, mobile-communications software, tablet computing and social networking,
Ballmer, Einhorn said, weighed down the stock and he must give someone else a chance. His fund owns about 9 million Microsoft shares and has $7.8 billion of assets.
Einhorn's call may be justified.
Despite reaping huge profits from sales of its Office and Windows software that run on hundreds of millions of computers around the world, Microsoft's stock has remained stubbornly static, hovering around $25 to $30 a share for much of the last decade. The company's online business, that includes the MSN Web portal and the Bing search engine, is also struggling against the likes of Google and has lost $726 million in the last quarter and $7 billion over the last four years.
Will Einhorn's voice matter? Perhaps not as his fund owns 0.11 percent of Microsoft shares compared to Ballmer who owns nearly 5 percent.
However, it is going to make Ballmer and his minions roll up their sleeves and do something helpful to the stock.
Microsoft shares closed up 1.98 percent at $24.67 on the Nasdaq on Thursday.