Microsoft strengthens board with BMW chief

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Microsoft, the world's biggest software company, has appointed the first non-American to its board as part of moves to strengthen its governance in the aftermath of a string of US corporate scandals.

Helmut Panke, the chairman of the German car maker BMW, will join the board in November assuming his appointment is approved by Microsoft shareholders. Also joining the board is Charles Noski, the former vice-chairman of the US telecoms giant AT&T.

The appointments will increase the number of directors on the Microsoft board to 10, of whom eight will be independent. The other two are Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder and chairman, and Steve Ballmer, its chief executive. Mr Panke, 57, took over as BMW chairman in May last year from Joachim Milberg. Previously he had been finance director of the Munich-based car company. Mr Gates said: "As our first director from outside the United States, Helmut will bring a valuable global perspective to our board."

Mr Gates is Microsoft's biggest shareholder, with 11 per cent. The latest Forbes rich list, published today, says his net worth has risen $3bn to $46bn (£28bn) in the last year, making him America's wealthiest man. Second is the investment guru Warren Buffett with $36bn and third is the co-founder of Microsoft Paul Allen, with $22bn. The next five places go to members of the Walton clan, the family behind the world's biggest retailer Wal-Mart.