June 1, 1999 12:40 PM PDT

Microsoft's Myhrvold to take one-year leave

Microsoft's chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold plans to take a sabbatical to pursue his interests in scientific research and to travel, the company announced.

A company spokesman denied that Myhrvold was being forced out by Microsoft president Steve Ballmer as reported in the weekly magazine Time. The report cited a company source who said that Myhrvold was being pushed out by Ballmer because Myhrvold was spending more time pursuing his outside interests than driving the software giant's $3 billion research department.

Myhrvold is set to begin his one-year sabbatical on July 1 and expects to return in one year. Rick Rashid, currently the vice president of research, will oversee the company's basic research projects, Microsoft said in a statement.

Myhrvold is among a growing crop of top Microsoft executives who, flush from reaping the benefits of Microsoft employee stock plans and options, are stepping back to enjoy some of their wealth. Brad Silverberg, a high-ranking executive, has been on an extended leave while Pete Higgins resigned as the head of the company's Interactive Media Group last year.

These executives, along with other top employees, have hitched a ride with Microsoft's soaring stock market valuation to vast riches and can easily afford to no longer work if they chose while keeping up their lifestyles and pursuing their interests.

"I kept 100 percent of my assets in one stock," said Myhrvold, referring to his Microsoft holdings. "Turns out it wasn't such a bad strategy."

In Myhrvold's case, he also plans to spend some time investing his assets in other companies and venture funds although he said he had no specific ones in mind currently.

"I have been about as negligent as you can possibly be with personal investments and now that I will have more time, I plan to address that," Myhrvold added.

The Time report that Myhrvold is being forced out is factually inaccurate, a Microsoft spokesman said, stressing that Myhrvold had been thinking about taking a sabbatical for some time now.

"[The sabbatical] was my idea. [Gates and I] have discussed it for the last two years," said Myhrvold. "Just last night, he sent me email confirming he wanted me to stay."

Myhrvold added that he had not discussed his plans with Ballmer and he felt no pressure from the Microsoft president in any way.

"Bill [Gates] made it clear he would accept me coming back as early as next week," said Myhrvold.

In a statement, Microsoft chief Bill Gates said: "Nathan has been an invaluable contributor to Microsoft, the technology industry, and to me personally over the past 13 years.

"Frankly, I would rather he continue his work at Microsoft, but I support his decision to take a much needed break and explore his passion for science," added Gates.

Earlier this year, Ballmer pushed through a major plan hoping to reorganize the company to focus more closely on the customers rather than specific products. Included in the reorganization was a new senior-level decision-making team that replaced the executive committee that had been in place since December 1996. Myhrvold, however, was not named to that group.

"I was not interested in being on that group and I was planning to take time off anyway," said Myhrvold. "Also, that group looks at operational details of the company and I work on Microsoft strategy and future technology with Bill [Gates]."

Myhrvold joined Microsoft in 1986 as director of special projects, when it acquired Dynamical Systems Research, a company he founded. He served as an adviser to Gates and played an important role in many projects, including the development of the Microsoft Windows.

In 1991, Myhrvold founded Microsoft Research, an organization that has grown to include some of the world's leading researchers in computer science and related fields. Before taking over as chief technology officer in 1996, Myhrvold was group vice president in the company's Applications and Content Group and was a key contributor to Microsoft's early online and consumer efforts.

Myhrvold plans to focus on several personal projects, including an expedition this summer to hunt for dinosaur remains in eastern Montana.

Still, he said he plans to do some consulting work for Gates on strategy issues. Gates said he plans to "draw on [Myhrvold's] expertise from time to time while he is on leave" and looks forward to his return.

 

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