Can Jeffrey Ubben shake up Microsoft?

  @FortuneMagazine October 31, 2013: 6:58 AM ET
INV28 jeffrey ubben

Ubben at the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, in late 2010


Hedge fund manager Jeffrey Ubben is the methodical type. He typically follows a company for a year or more before he invests a penny. But in February one of his partners, after a dinner with Microsoft executives at a conference, suggested looking at the software giant. Ubben got so excited that within two months he bought $2 billion in shares. Since then he's taken his pitch public. In his view Microsoft's software is the electronic version of plumbing: It isn't glamorous, but it's essential to hundreds of millions of people who use a computer daily. Prominent fund manager Whitney Tilson calls Ubben's argument a "very compelling contrarian take."

Ubben, 52, is an activist investor, with an approach built on the Warren Buffett value philosophy. Ubben, who started as an analyst under legendary Fidelity fund manager Peter Lynch, launched his firm ValueAct in 2001. Today it manages $12 billion.

It's not Ubben's first time in the public eye -- he and his partners have been involved in 20 management changes and, for a time, he was chairman of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia -- but his Microsoft campaign has propelled him to new prominence. People familiar with the situation say Ubben played a role in CEO Steve Ballmer's plans to depart, contacting other large shareholders and rallying support for a management change. (Ubben and Microsoft declined to comment on this point.)

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