Ballmer now Microsoft’s largest individual shareholder

NEW YORK — Steve Ballmer, the former chief executive officer of Microsoft, became the company’s biggest individual shareholder Friday after Bill Gates sold 4.6 million shares of the world’s largest software maker.

Ballmer, who retired Feb. 4 after 33 years at the Redmond company, owns 333.2 million shares of Microsoft, 3.1 million more than Gates. Ballmer has collected about $3.4 billion from selling shares since the company’s 1986 initial public offering, and has a net worth of $18.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

“It’s not an event in and of itself, but it is symbolic in that it speaks to what has taken place at Microsoft over the last 10 years,” said Daniel Ives, a New York-based analyst at FBR Capital Markets &Co. “There’s been a passing of the guard.”

Ballmer joined Microsoft as employee No. 30 in 1980 after Gates persuaded him to drop out of Stanford University’s business school. He rose to the rank of president and then took over for Gates as CEO in 2000.

Bridgett Arnold, a spokeswoman for Gates, declined to comment. Microsoft spokesman Peter Wootton also declined to comment.

Microsoft fell 31 cents to close at $39.69 on Friday.

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