Last updated: May 26, 2011 1:54 am

Greenlight’s Einhorn calls for Ballmer’s departure

David Einhorn, president of $5bn hedge fund Greenlight Capital, has called on the board of Microsoft to sack Steve Ballmer as chief executive.

There have been rumblings of dissatisfaction from investors due to the persistent poor performance of Microsoft shares since Mr Ballmer took the helm in 2000, but Mr Einhorn is the first high-profile shareholder to publicly call for his departure.

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“His continued presence is the biggest overhang for Microsoft stock”, said Mr Einhorn, speaking at the Ira Sohn conference in New York on Wednesday.

“Ballmer does not care what Wall Street thinks and maybe that’s a good thing,” said Mr Einhorn, but he then went on to describe the imposing chief executive as “stuck in the past”.

The annual conference, where 17 investors presented their top investment ideas to a packed audience of their peers, is the same venue Mr Einhorn used in 2008 to present his then-controversial view that Lehman Brothers would go out of business.

Mr Einhorn has long been bullish on the prospects for Microsoft stock, advocating it as a top pick five years ago, and he reiterated that view on Wednesday.

He argued that the software company has under appreciated success in cloud computing, and had one more shot at cracking the smartphone market through its partnership with Nokia.

However Microsoft shares have traded sideways for more than a decade, and have declined in recent weeks following the decision to pay $8.5bn for Skype in an attempt to battle the growing influence of competitors Google and Apple.

Mr Ballmer has also faced criticism for being slow to react to the rise of Apple in smartphones and the rapidly expanding market for tablets, developments which he initially derided in public.

Mr Ballmer’s future at Microsoft will probably be determined, however, by the support of Bill Gates, its founder and chairman, who owns 6.7 per cent of the stock.

Greenlight Capital owns 0.1 per cent of Microsoft.

Microsoft declined to comment.

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