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Bill Gates masterminded Microsoft's $8.5B USD purchase of Skype. A fund closely affiliated with Mr. Gates, Silver Lake Partners made $2.9B USD off the purchase. But an inside source reveals to us that Mr. Gates had no stake in the fund branch that purchased Skype. Thus despite his large investment in Silver Lake Partners he will receive no compensation from the deal.  (Source: UPI)

Bill Gates has been portrayed in pop culture as a ruthless negotiator.  (Source: Matt Groening/20th Century Fox)
Fellow Silver Lake investors win big, but Bill Gates earns nothing

Those following the world of finance might have paused and wondered why Microsoft would pay $8.5B USD to buy Skype, when many experts valued the company at less than half of that amount.  

Well it turns out a lot of the pressure to buy Skype originated from Microsoft founder and tech icon Bill Gates.  

We were the first to note Mr. Gate's ties to Silver Lake Partners, one of the principle groups that profited from the Skype acquisition.

We can now confirm with strong accuracy that Mr. Gates' funds were not involved in the acquisition, despite Mr. Gates' deep involvement in a earlier Silver Lake Partners fund.

I. Bill Gates Says he Masterminded Acquisition

Bill Gates may have stepped down from the position of CEO of the world's largest software company Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), but apparently he still calls the shots at the company he co-founded.  Mr. Gates, a major Microsoft shareholder and Chairman of the company's investor board, sounded off in an interview with UK news agency BBC News, in which he said that he was a driving force behind Microsoft's $8.5B USD acquisition of Skype.

The acquisition shocked many, as the price was almost double some experts' valuations and came seemingly out of the blue.  Some perceive the purchase as a sign that Microsoft is growing concerned with public interest in rival Google Inc.'s Google Voice service.

In an interview with BBC reporter Stephen Sackur, Mr. Gates gives confirmation that the deal was obstensibly a strategic one.  He states, "I think it's a great, great deal for Skype. I think it's a great deal for Microsoft."

"The idea of video conferencing is going to get so much better than it is today. Skype actually does get a fair bit of revenue," he adds, "It'll be fascinating to see how the brilliant ideas out of Microsoft research, coming together with Skype, what they can make of that."

And he reveals that he promoted the acquisition, stating, "I was a strong proponent at the board level for the deal being done."

II. Sale a Big Payday for Some Silver Lake Partners Investors -- But Not Mr. Gates

Compelled by that question we discovered an intriguing connection.  Mr. Gates had close ties to to one of the funds that purchased Skype.

Skype, Inc. was founded in 2003 by Niklas Zennström from Sweden and Janus Friis from Denmark.  The service's key developers were well known for authoring the infamous peer-to-peer filesharing client Kazaa.  In September 2005 eBay, Inc. (EBAY) purchased Skype for $2.5B USD, a handsome payday for its European founders.

But Skype proved a poor fit for eBay, whose core offerings were its titular auctions website and the popular billing service PayPal, which it gained through a separate prior acquisition.  Skype was the odd man out.

Despite Skype's exploding popularity, revenue remained low.  So in September 2009 eBay sold 70 percent of Skype to a group of investors for an estimated $1.9B USD, valuing the company at $2.75B USD overall. 

Leading the group of investors was Silver Lake Partners, who poured $940M USD into it, and reportedly stand to make $2.9B USD off the Microsoft purchase.

But Bill Gates was no stranger to Silver Lake -- in fact he was one of its principal investors.  Mr. Gates, along with Oracle Corp. (ORCL) CEO Larry Ellison and Dell Inc. (DELL) CEO Michael Dell, helped to pour over $2.3B USD into Silver Lake in 1999 [press release].

Initially it appeared that Mr. Gates might have had money tied to the Silver Lake Partners fund that owned a major share of Skype and thus might be in line for a piece windfall profits from the deal.

However, a source close to Silver Lake Partners has confirmed to us that Mr. Gates was not invested in the fund that purchased Skype.

The source tells us that Silver Lake Partners is primarily funded by blue chip investors with large amounts of venture capital -- such as Mr. Gates.  The fund also has taken on some capital from pension funds.  The funds' structure is not immediately revealed to outside parties, but the source tells us that each major round of venture capital corresponded to discrete assets purchases.

Mr. Gates was involved in the first round of funding, known as the Silver Lake 1 fund.  The Skype purchase was made from a third round of funding, dubbed Silver Lake 3, which Mr. Gates was not a part of.  The source would not comment on fund mixing other than to state explicitly that the Silver Lake 1 and Silver Lake 3 funds were not mixed.

Silver Lake Partners refused to comment regarding the investors involved in particular funds or the fund structure, stating that they normally do not reveal who contributes to their funds to protect their clients' privacy.  

But our trusted source confirms that Mr. Gates had no financial stake in Silver Lake 3, and thus will not stand to profit from sale, despite his close ties to the fund and major investment in Silver Lake 1.

Mr. Gates has seemed bearish on Microsoft over the last year. In the last year he sold over 90 million shares of Microsoft stock, cutting his holdings in the company by 13 percent.  The recent selling has concerned some Microsoft investors.  However, Mr. Gates, in his comments, remains optimistic about the future of the company he founded.  And he clearly seems to think that the Skype deal improved Microsoft, even if the deal may rub some analysts the wrong way.

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RE: Right...
By JasonMick on 5/18/2011 8:51:28 PM , Rating: 3
Now, talking about legality, it would depend on how involved he was, and how he benefitted. As he's not divorced from MS, he could be in trouble if it were shown that he "forced" this deal to the detriment of MS for his own benefit. In other words, if it can be shown that the price paid for Skype was so far above a proper valuation that the price paid had little relation to the value, or what they could have gotten it for, and that he was a major beneficiary of the deal he led, then that would be illegal.

The problem is that you're not supposed to be on both sides of a deal at once. A question has to do with the chess problem of playing yourself. If you know the moves both sides make, how can you be regarded as fair and objective. An executive, or board member has a fiduciary duty to the company to get them the best deal. We can see the problem if one has major investments of both sides. Ethically, he should have recused himself from any discussions or decisions. If he didn't he could be in trouble.

Greed is interesting. People do things they have no need of doing because they just can't resist.

Actually Gates appears to be in the clear here. A trusted source close to Silver Lake Partners has confirmed that while Mr. Gates indeed holds a large stake in one of the holding firm's funds, that fund was not used to purchase Skype.

The source says the outside structure of the fund is not widely publicized and the fund's investors are confidential.

But they were explained that Mr. Gates' investments were solely in Silver Lake 1... an early fund, versus Silver Lake 3, a more recent fund used to buy a stake in Skype from eBay. The source says that there was no mixing of Silver Lake 1 and 3

RE: Right...
By mcnabney on 5/19/2011 9:11:22 AM , Rating: 2
Criss Cross

Bill does something to enrich his pals, later they will do something to further enrich Bill.

Kind of like if I would agree to kill your wife while you agreed to kill mine. There is no clear motive for either action. The true motive only appears when all transactions are revealed.

RE: Right...
By bah12 on 5/19/2011 9:48:06 AM , Rating: 3
Kind of like if I would agree to kill your wife while you agreed to kill mine.
Wow tin foil hat, whats with the negative analogy. How about I would take care of your kids if you passed away, and you would take care of mine if I did. Since when does helping a friend out become an "evil" act (rhetorical question its obvious you think its evil when they both are well off).

Be honest with yourself, and you will realize that it is human nature to "repay" favors with favors, and usually those charitable actions start with people you consider friends.

Just because he has $$$ and his friends have $$$ does not mean there is something wrong with scratching each others backs. The law is clear as long as he does not directly benefit there is no wrongdoing here, other than your obvious hatred for people with money helping other people with money (they should just give it to you right?).

If I was in the market for a company and I overpaid my buddy for his, what is wrong with that? Its a fully taxable transaction, there is no evasion in that respect. So I don't get your problem with it, even if his already rich buddies got richer.

RE: Right...
By mcnabney on 5/19/2011 1:39:30 PM , Rating: 2
Simpsons did it.

As did Law & Order and numerous others. It was the first thing that popped into my sad little mind.

/I love my wife
//Please don't kill her
///Who would iron my shirts?

RE: Right...
By Snow01 on 5/20/2011 12:14:24 AM , Rating: 2
The problem is Microsoft is a public company. They have shareholders that expect the company to make financially sound decisions - especially considering it's largely a dividend stock. No one pays double market value for something just because. The association of Gates with the firm that stands to make a large portion off the deal is certainly suspect. While perhaps not technically illegal, the morality of his involvement can certainly be called into question.

RE: Right...
By sviola on 5/20/2011 10:47:47 AM , Rating: 2
Isn't Bill Gates the largest MS shareholder?

"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet.  A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis
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