Who Owns Microsoft: The Largest Shareholders Overview

Article Teaser: Who Owns Microsoft: The Largest Shareholders Overview

Microsoft (MSFT) is one of the biggest companies in the world. It makes money primarily by providing businesses with cloud resources and a wide range of software tools. Its financial performance for the last couple of years has been outstanding. But who are Microsoft’s largest shareholders, and who controls the voting power?

The largest shareholders of Microsoft Corporation are Vanguard, with a 8% ownership share, followed by BlackRock (7%) and former CEO and early employee Steve Ballmer (4%). Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates still owned around 1% of shares, but his stake will continue to decrease.

 Microsoft's Largest Shareholders (Dec 2021)
Shareholder Ownership Voting Power
Vanguard 8.2% 8.2%
BlackRock 6.9% 6.9%
Steve Ballmer 4.4% 4.4%
Bill Gates 1.4% 1.4%
Other 79.0% 79.0%
Listed are shareholders holding >5% of any share class or notable in other ways
   Source: Multiple SEC fillings

Microsoft largest shareholders by share ownership and vote control (donut chart) Microsoft largest shareholders by share ownership and vote control (donut chart)

As you can see from the table and visuals above, the top shareholders of Microsoft are asset managers investing money of other people, and the top individual shareholder is Steve Ballmer.

Interestingly, despite Bill Gates and Paul Allen being founders of Microsoft, neither Bill nor Paul’s descendants (Paul died in 2018) have significant ownership of the company. They continued to sell their shares aggressively throughout the years, and both diversified into other investments and spent significant sums on philanthropy.

Just after Microsoft’s IPO in 1986, Bill Gates’ ownership was 45% and Paul Allen, who at the time was no longer playing an active role in the company, had a 25% stake. When we move forward to the year 2000, Bill’s stake decreased to 13.7%, and Paul’s stake dropped to under 5%.

Meanwhile, Steve Ballmer, whose stake in Microsoft after its IPO was 6.8%, held on to most of its original shares, making him now the largest individual shareholder. He sold some stock early on but since then held its stake stable at around 4.5% for a long time.

In this article, I will dive more into who Microsoft’s largest shareholders are, how many shares and votes they have, and how much their stake is worth. I will also explore some other topics related to its ownership structure.

If you are interested, you can also check my other articles about Microsoft. For example, an article about how Microsoft makes money and how its business model work or article with visual overview of Microsoft’s financial statements.

You can also explore who are the largest shareholders in other technology companies like Apple, Meta(Facebook), Amazon, or Alphabet(Google).

🕹️ Who Owns Microsoft (MSFT) and Who Has Control?

The chart below depicts both the ownership and voting power of different shareholders. In Microsoft’s case, you can see that ownership share equals voting power.

Microsoft largest shareholders share ownership vs vote control chart

Unlike younger technology companies like Google or Facebook, Microsoft has only one class of shares. Microsoft’s founders or original shareholders before IPO do not have any special voting power.

Ownership of Microsoft is quite disbursed, and the main shareholders are asset managers investing money in the name of other investors.

No shareholder or group of shareholders has majority control over Microsoft.

Microsoft’s disbursed ownership might bring its own set of problems thanks to conflicts of interest between Microsoft’s management and its investors that are themselves represented by another management layer in the form of asset management companies.

🗳️ Breakdown of Microsoft’s Outstanding Shares and Votes by Top Shareholders

Microsoft Corporation had a total of 7,500 million outstanding shares as of December 2021. The following table shows how many shares each Microsoft’s large shareholder holds.

 Microsoft's Outstanding Shares by Shareholder
In millions of shares as of December 2021
Shareholder Class A Class B Class C Total % Share
Vanguard 616 - - 616 8.2%
BlackRock 520 - - 520 6.9%
Steve Ballmer 333 - - 333 4.4%
Bill Gates 103 - - 103 1.4%
Other 5,928 - - 5,928 79.0%
Total (# millions) 7,500 - - 7,500 100.0%
Listed are shareholders holding >5% of any share class or notable in other ways
   Source: Multiple SEC fillings

There were 7,500 million votes distributed among shareholders of Microsoft Corporation. The table below shows the total number of votes for each large shareholder.

 Microsoft's Vote Control by Shareholder
In millions of votes as of December 2021
Shareholder Class A Class B Class C Total % Share
Vanguard 616 - - 616 8.2%
BlackRock 520 - - 520 6.9%
Steve Ballmer 333 - - 333 4.4%
Bill Gates 103 - - 103 1.4%
Other 5,928 - - 5,928 79.0%
Total (# millions) 7,500 - - 7,500 100.0%
Listed are shareholders holding >5% of any share class or notable in other ways
   Source: Multiple SEC fillings

You can see that there is no difference between shares and votes, thanks to Microsoft having only a single class of shares.

💵 Breakdown of Microsoft’s Market Value by Shareholder

The following table summarizes how much is each shareholder’s stake in Microsoft Corporation worth.

However, keep in mind that a stake in Microsoft could be just one part of their portfolio, and their total worth could be bigger, thanks to other investments. It could also be lower if they have debts.

 Microsoft's Market Value by Shareholder
Market value in billions $ as of December 2021
Shareholder Class A Class B Class C Total % Share
Vanguard $207 - - $207 8.2%
BlackRock $175 - - $175 6.9%
Steve Ballmer $112 - - $112 4.4%
Bill Gates $35 - - $35 1.4%
Other $1,994 - - $1,994 79.0%
Total ($ billions) $2,522 - - $2,522 100.0%
Listed are shareholders holding >5% of any share class or notable in other ways
   Source: Multiple SEC fillings

Let’s now look at each Microsoft shareholder individually.

📒 Who Are the Largest Shareholders of Microsoft Corporation

Let’s now go through the list of the largest shareholders of Microsoft Corporation one by one and look at who they are, how many shares they own, what is their voting power, and how much is their stake in Microsoft worth.

#1 Vanguard

Vanguard holds 8% of Microsoft’s shares making it its largest shareholder.

Microsoft largest shareholders share ownership vs vote control chart

Vanguard owns 616 million Microsoft shares, representing 616 million shareholder votes. The market value of Vanguard’s stake in Microsoft was $207 billion as of December 2021.

Vanguard (The Vanguard Group) is one of the largest asset managers in the world. It manages other people’s money through its mutual funds and exchange-traded funds and also offers other related investing and financial planning services.

Vanguard differs from other large asset managers by having no actual “owner .” Officially Vanguard says that its investors own it since its funds own it, and Vanguard fund investors own those funds.

However, the actual decision power is in the hands of Vanguard’s insiders since the ownership is diluted over millions of investors worldwide.

Vanguard has significant influence over the largest public companies. Thanks to its size, Vanguard usually belongs to the largest shareholders in those companies and has considerable power at their shareholder meetings. This is especially true if ownership is diluted.

Vanguard representatives make the calls about which shareholder proposal to support or not, even though Vanguard is not the ultimate owner of those stocks and they belong to their clients.

It means that just a few people in charge of the largest asset managers have significant sway over many publicly traded companies. They are usually the median investors that can push or kill many proposals. As passive investing became more popular and the asset management market more concentrated, this became quite a concerning issue.

  • Several terms were coined to describe this issue. Some call it asset manager capitalism, and popular is also the power of twelve. Financial Times even put together who exactly those twelve people might be.

  • Vanguard and other large fund managers are trying to address those concerns by having public policies describing how they are exercising their voting power. But as you can imagine, this is still a situation full of conflicts of interest.
  • Evidence shows that big asset managers usually vote together with management.

#2 BlackRock

BlackRock holds 7% of Microsoft’s shares which makes it its second-largest shareholder.

Microsoft largest shareholders share ownership vs vote control chart

BlackRock owns 520 million Microsoft shares, representing 520 million shareholder votes. The market value of BlackRock’s stake in Microsoft was $175 billion as of December 2021.

BlackRock, Inc. is the world’s largest asset manager, with assets under management of $10 trillion. BlackRock is not only an asset manager, but it also provides other asset managers and corporations with its Aladdin portfolio management software.

BlackRock is a publicly traded company, and its largest shareholders are its competitors, including BlackRock itself. Not directly but through their passive and active funds. The largest shareholder is Vanguard.

A similar situation is also true in the opposite direction because BlackRock is a significant shareholder in many of its publicly traded competitors and other large institutions, making the whole thing even more eyebrow-raising.

This circular ownership between Vanguard, BlackRock, and other large asset managers, amplifies the issue often raised about the power of these large asset managers over public companies since they usually belong to the most significant shareholders.

  • BlackRock and other large asset managers do not invest their own money, but they have significant voting power that, in most cases, is not passed through to the underlying investors. Therefore, BlackRock itself and its representatives have significant sway over decisions in those companies.

  • In the case of Blackrock, this influence is personified in the form of its CEO Larry Fink, who is a powerful figure with close ties in the FED and US government.

  • Adding to these concerns is evidence that BlackRock and other asset managers usually vote in favor of management proposals.

  • Recently, large asset managers started to be more sympathetic to different climate and environmental-related proposals and even supported activists that went against the management’s wishes. BlackRock was particularly aggressive in this change. Another proof of the power these companies have.

#3 Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer holds 4% of Microsoft’s shares which makes him its largest individual shareholder.

Microsoft largest shareholders share ownership vs vote control chart

Steve Ballmer owns 333 million Microsoft shares, representing 333 million shareholder votes. The market value of Steve Ballmer’s stake in Microsoft was $112 billion as of December 2021.

Steve Ballmer is a former Microsoft early employee and CEO. His time at Microsoft started in 1980 when Bill Gates hired him. He quickly became Gates’s number two and also a close friend.

Steve replaced Bill Gates as Microsoft CEO in 2000. However, Bill stayed in Microsoft in a limited role and also as chairman of the Board and continued to look Steve over the shoulder, which, as Steve commented, meant Steve did not have complete autonomy over Microsoft. When Bill Gates left Microsoft, it was also the time when their once close friendship deteriorated, and they drifted off.

Ballmer’s reign as Microsoft CEO from 2000 to 2014 is not viewed at the time positively. However in my view, it was mixed bag He made some important changes that helped Microsoft to get where it is now, mainly his focus on enterprise products and customers. Under his leadership, Microsoft started its successful journey into being a cloud infrastructure provider. On the other hand, he lost ist fight for the mobile phone market and other consumer products, and his desperate move to buy the Nokia phone manufacturer backfired. Microsoft later gave up its struggle to get into the mobile phone market.

Under Steve as CEO, Microsoft was doing well financially, but not so much Microsoft stocks. In the end, Steve was pushed to leave Microsoft, and in 2014 he handed over the CEO position to Satya Nadella.

Ballmer is no longer active in Microsoft except as a company shareholder. He does not even sit on the company’s Board. He is the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team that he purchased in 2014.

He is an owner of Los Angeles Clippers, professional basketball teams that he purchased in 2014.

#4 Bill Gates

Bill Gates holds 1% of Microsoft’s shares.

Microsoft largest shareholders share ownership vs vote control chart

Bill Gates owns 103 million Microsoft shares, representing 103 million shareholder votes. The market value of Bill Gates’s stake in Microsoft was $35 billion as of December 2021.

Bill Gates (William H. Gates III) is the founder of Microsoft and a philanthropist. He was CEO of Microsoft from 1975 to 2000. After this period, he handed over the CEO position to Steve Ballmer. Bill Gates is still one of the wealthiest people in the world.

Bill Gates founded Microsoft in 1975, together with his friend Paul Allen. Even after stepping down from the CEO position in 2000, he stayed on Microsoft’s board as chairman and later board member. In 2020 he left his board position to focus on his philanthropic efforts fully.

However, as was later reported, this sudden resignation from Microsoft’s board a few months after he was reelected was not fully voluntary. It seems to be a result of an ongoing investigation by Microsoft’s Board into the billionaire’s prior romantic relationship with a female Microsoft employee that was deemed inappropriate.

Another significant milestone in his life was Bill and Melinda Gates’s divorce, announced in May 2021.

Bill continues to be active in his philanthropic work and has announced that he will soon drop off the list of world wealthies persons as he plans to donate virtually all his wealth to Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

❔ Does Bill Gates Still Owns Microsoft?

Bill Gates owned approximately 1.4% of Microsoft as of December 2021. However, he made another large stock donation to Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2022. His stake in Microsoft, therefore, dropped to around 0.9%, and he plans to decrease it even further.

To be clear, Bill Gates is no longer required to disclose his stake, so the 1.4% stake assumption is based on his last disclosed stake when he was still on the Microsoft board in 1999. We also know that no large block of Microsoft stock appeared in Bill & Melinda Gates’s portfolio from 1999 to the end of 2021, which makes it probable that Bill still held the same stake in Microsoft at the end of 2021.

Based on the 13F filing by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust, a large block of Microsoft shares (around 0.5% stake) appeared in the foundation’s portfolio during the third quarter of 2022, together with other donations Bill made at the time and which were reported by media. However, it looks media missed that Microsoft stocks are part of that donation.

So even though Bill did not publicly disclose the drop in his Microsoft stake, circumstantial evidence suggests that it happened. It is in line with his announcements on Twitter in July 2022 that he is planning to give virtually all of his wealth to his foundation and that he is donating $20 billion to his foundation.

❔ Does Paul Allen Still Owns Microsoft?

Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, died in 2018. However, he reduced his stake below the 5% threshold long before that. The last time Paul Allen appeared in Microsoft’s Proxy Statements as a shareholder was in 1999.

Paul Allen’s stake after Microsoft’s IPO in 1986 was 25%. Bill Gates’s stake at the same time was 45%.

How Microsoft Makes Money: Business Model Explained
Deep dive into how Microsoft makes money and how its business model works.

Microsoft’s Financial Statements: Overview & Analysis
Overview and analysis of Microsoft’s financial statements from its annual report with financial statement visualizations.

Microsoft Revenue Breakdown by Product, Segment, and Country
A detailed breakdown of Microsoft’s revenue by product, segment, and geography with core takeaways, charts, and visuals.

Other Resources

Disclaimer: Although I use third-party trademarks and logos in this article and its visuals, kamilfranek.com is an independent site, and there is no relationship, sponsorship, or endorsement between this site and the owners of those trademarks.

You can tap into my 15+ years of experience in business analytics by booking an online consultation with me. You can also hire me to help with your smaller business analytics projects. Find out more by clicking the button below. Or you can subscribe to my mailing list so you don't miss any of my new posts going forward.
Subscribe to my mailing list - do not miss any of my new posts

Updated: