Microsoft turns to Thompson to succeed Gates as chairman

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John W. Thompson, one of the few African-American chief executive officers in technology, has been tapped to succeed Bill Gates as chairman of Microsoft.

The former CEO of Symantec, Thompson is the CEO of Virtual Instruments, a San Jose-based software company. He will be the second chairman of Microsoft.

Thompson will be chair of the board that oversees Microsoft’s top executives, including the new CEO, Satya Nadella, a longtime company insider.

Thompson, who oversaw the CEO search, made it clear that the company did an exhaustive search. In a blog post late last year, Thompson disclosed that the board initially identified more than 100 prospects before whittling the field to about 20 people who are “all extremely impressive in their own right.” With the search complete, Thompson is now replacing Gates as Microsoft’s chairman.

Although he is relinquishing the chairman’s role, Gates will remain on Microsoft’s board

Despite its challenges, Microsoft remains a moneymaking machine that sits atop an $84 billion cash pile,” says Dennis Carrey, vice chairman of executive recruiting firm Korn Ferry and co-author of the book, “Boards That Lead.”

Microsoft “is like a car that still has a full tank of gas, but it’s just an old model,” Carrey says. “There are a lot of great tech executives who yearn for that kind of challenge, especially with a bucket of cash to make acquisitions and do some really fun, cool stuff.”

A Microsoft resurgence is entirely possible. IBM famously bounced back during the 1990s after hiring an outsider, former packaged food and financial services executive Louis Gerstner, to impose the most wrenching changes in that company’s history.

Here is a sketch of Thompson:

Age: 64
Born: Fort Dix, N.J.
Residence: Woodside
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business, Florida A&M University; Master’s in management, MIT’s Sloan School of Management
Career: Currently CEO of Virtual Instruments. Former CEO of Symantec (1999-2009); worked for 28 years at IBM.
Public service: Numerous government boards and commissions, including the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the National Infrastructure Advisory Committee, and the Silicon Valley Blue Ribbon Task Force on Aviation Security and Technology. Also served on the national board of Teach for America.
Family: Married; two adult children

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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