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Bill Gates’ former assistant is worth $154 billion — and could soon be richer than the Microsoft cofounder

Bill Gates has chosen Steve Ballmer to replace him as CEO, but he remains board chairman of MicrosoftSteve Ballmer and Bill Gates.

Rick Maiman/ Getty

  • Bill Gates’ former assistant could soon be richer than the Microsoft cofounder.
  • Steve Ballmer’s $154 billion fortune ranks him just behind his former boss on Bloomberg’s rich list.
  • Ballmer’s vast wealth stems from the contract he negotiated when he was hired by Microsoft in 1980.

Bill Gates‘ former assistant has hurtled up the rankings of the world’s richest people, and could soon overtake Microsoft‘s legendary cofounder and his old boss in net worth.

Steve Ballmer’s fortune has grown by an estimated $24 billion this year to $154 billion, putting him in seventh place on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He now trails Gates — in sixth place with $157 billion — by just $3 billion, compared to $17 billion last summer.

Ballmer is richer than many big-name billionaires including Oracle’s Larry Ellison ($153 billion), Alphabet’s Sergey Brin ($148 billion), Warren Buffett ($135 billion), Michael Dell ($120 billion), and Nvidia’s Jensen Huang ($115 billion), the index shows.

He joined Microsoft in 1980 as assistant to the president, although he served as more of a business manager than a PA. Ballmer originally negotiated a $50,000 base salary plus 10% of the profit growth he generated, but when his share of the profits became excessive, he agreed to swap it for a substantial equity stake, according to Forbes.

Gates’ trusted advisor rose up the ranks to become Microsoft’s CEO in 2000. He retired from that role in 2014 with 333 million shares or a 4% stake, regulatory filings show.

Bloomberg assumes that he’s retained most of those shares, giving him a position valued at more than $150 billion based on Microsoft’s stock price. He’s likely collected billions of dollars’ worth of dividends over the years too.

Steve Ballmer MicrosoftSteve Ballmer stepped down as Microsoft CEO in 2014.

Business Insider/Julie Bort

Ballmer’s wealth has ballooned over the past year primarily because of the artificial-intelligence boom, which has boosted Microsoft stock. The computing giant’s stake in ChatGPT-parent OpenAI has fueled hopes that it can disrupt Google-owner Alphabet’s dominant position in internet search, lifting Microsoft shares by about a third over the past 12 months.

It’s worth underscoring that Ballmer is an anomaly among the 10 wealthiest people on Bloomberg’s rich list. Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault, Jeff Bezos, and the rest owe their wealth to stakes in companies they founded or still run, whereas Ballmer is not Microsoft’s founder or current CEO.

If he does leapfrog Gates, who has diversified his fortune away from Microsoft stock and donated large sums to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other charities, that would be a truly rare case where an employee winds up richer than his company’s founder.

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