In Steve Ballmer's tearful farewell to Microsoft, he assured employees that they would build amazing things without him at the helm. "We will deliver the next big thing... we will change the world again." Some shareholders, however, believe that the company can't make necessary changes simply by replacing a CEO. Today, Reuters is reporting that three of the top 20 Microsoft investors are also calling for Microsoft chairman Bill Gates to step down.

According to Reuters:

The three investors are concerned that Gates' presence on the board effectively blocks the adoption of new strategies and would limit the power of a new chief executive to make substantial changes. In particular, they point to Gates' role on the special committee searching for Ballmer's successor.

They are also worried that Gates - who spends most of his time on his philanthropic foundation - wields power out of proportion to his declining shareholding.

Though Gates does appear to dedicate most of his time to philanthropic efforts, fears that he might still be running the company behind the scenes aren't entirely out of whack. Some have argued that Steve Ballmer spent over a decade in Gates' shadow, relying on him to make certain key decisions, and that Ballmer made some of his greatest mistakes while attempting to protect the man's legacy.

It's interesting to note that Reuters similiarly cited "at least three of the top 20 investors" as petitioning the board to consider Ford's Alan Mulally to replace Steve Ballmer as Microsoft CEO. While it's not clear if they're the same three investors, the board of directors did reportedly go on to seriously consider Mulally for the role. Reuters writes that the three shareholders who want Bill Gates to step down hold over 5 percent of the company's stock, compared to the 4.5 percent that Gates himself presently owns.