William Henry “Bill” Gates III (born October 28, 1955) is an American business magnate, entrepreneur, investor, author, and philanthropist. In 1975, Gates and Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft, which became the world’s largest PC software company. During his career at Microsoft, Gates held the positions of chairman, CEO and chief software architect, and was the largest individual shareholder until May 2014. Gates has authored and co-authored several books.
Since 1987, Gates has been included in the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people and was the wealthiest from 1995 to 2007, again in 2009, and has been since 2014. Between 2009 and 2014, his wealth doubled from US$40 billion to more than US$82 billion. Between 2013 and 2014, his wealth increased by US$15 billion. Gates is currently the richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of US$84.2 billion as of January 2017.
Gates is one of the best-known entrepreneurs of the personal computer revolution. He has been criticized for his business tactics, which have been considered anti-competitive, an opinion that has in some cases been upheld by numerous court rulings. Later in his career, Gates pursued a number of philanthropic endeavors, donating large amounts of money to various charitable organizations and scientific research programs through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, established in 2000.
Gates stepped down as chief executive officer of Microsoft in January 2000. He remained as chairman and created the position of chief software architect for himself. In June 2006, Gates announced that he would be transitioning from full-time work at Microsoft to part-time work, and full-time work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He gradually transferred his duties to Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie. He stepped down as chairman of Microsoft in February 2014, taking on a new post as technology adviser to support the then newly appointed CEO Satya Nadella.
Gates was born in Seattle, Washington on October 28, 1955. He is the son of William H. Gates Sr.(born 1925) and Mary Maxwell Gates (1931–1994). His ancestry includes English, German, Irish, and Scots-Irish.His father was a prominent lawyer, and his mother served on the board of directors for First Interstate BancSystem and the United Way. Gates’ maternal grandfather was JW Maxwell, a national bank president. Gates has one elder sister, Kristi (Kristianne), and one younger sister, Libby. He was the fourth of his name in his family, but was known as William Gates III or “Trey” because his father had the “II” suffix. Early on in his life, Gates’ parents had a law career in mind for him. When Gates was young, his family regularly attended a church of the Congregational Christian Churches, a Protestant Reformed denomination. The family encouraged competition; one visitor reported that “it didn’t matter whether it was hearts or pickleball or swimming to the dock … there was always a reward for winning and there was always a penalty for losing”.
The Poker Room in Currier House at Harvard College
At 13, he enrolled in the Lakeside School, a private preparatory school.When he was in the eighth grade, the Mothers Club at the school used proceeds from Lakeside School’s rummage sale to buy a Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal and a block of computer time on a General Electric (GE) computer for the school’s students. Gates took an interest in programming the GE system in BASIC, and was excused from math classes to pursue his interest. He wrote his first computer program on this machine: an implementation of tic-tac-toe that allowed users to play games against the computer. Gates was fascinated by the machine and how it would always execute software code perfectly. When he reflected back on that moment, he said, “There was just something neat about the machine.”After the Mothers Club donation was exhausted, he and other students sought time on systems including DEC PDP minicomputers. One of these systems was a PDP-10 belonging to Computer Center Corporation (CCC), which banned four Lakeside students – Gates, Paul Allen, Ric Weiland, and Kent Evans – for the summer after it caught them exploiting bugs in the operating system to obtain free computer time.
At the end of the ban, the four students offered to find bugs in CCC’s software in exchange for computer time. Rather than use the system via Teletype, Gates went to CCC’s offices and studied source code for various programs that ran on the system, including programs in Fortran, Lisp, and machine language. The arrangement with CCC continued until 1970, when the company went out of business. The following year, Information Sciences, Inc. hired the four Lakeside students to write a payroll program in Cobol, providing them computer time and royalties. After his administrators became aware of his programming abilities, Gates wrote the school’s computer program to schedule students in classes. He modified the code so that he was placed in classes with “a disproportionate number of interesting girls.”He later stated that “it was hard to tear myself away from a machine at which I could so unambiguously demonstrate success.”At age 17, Gates formed a venture with Allen, called Traf-O-Data, to make traffic counters based on the Intel 8008 processor. In early 1973, Bill Gates served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Gates graduated from Lakeside School in 1973, and was a National Merit Scholar. He scored 1590 out of 1600 on the Scholastic Aptitude Testsand enrolled at Harvard College in the autumn of 1973. He chose a pre-law major but took rigorous mathematics and graduate level computer science courses.While at Harvard, he met fellow student Steve Ballmer. Gates left Harvard after two years while Ballmer would stay and graduate magna cum laude. Years later, Ballmer succeeded Gates as CEO of Microsoft before resigning from the company in 2014.
In his second year, Gates devised an algorithm for pancake sorting as a solution to one of a series of unsolved problems presented in a combinatorics class by Harry Lewis, one of his professors. Gates’ solution held the record as the fastest version for over thirty years; its successor is faster by only one percent. His solution was later formalized in a published paper in collaboration with Harvard computer scientist Christos Papadimitriou.
Gates did not have a definite study plan while a student at Harvard and spent a lot of time using the school’s computers. Gates remained in contact with Paul Allen, and he joined him at Honeywell during the summer of 1974. The following year saw the release of the MITS Altair 8800 based on the Intel 8080 CPU, and Gates and Allen saw this as the opportunity to start their own computer software company.Gates dropped out of Harvard at this time. He had talked this decision over with his parents, who were supportive of him after seeing how much Gates wanted to start his own company.
MITS Altair 8800 Computer with 8-inch (200 mm) floppy disk system
After reading the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics that demonstrated the Altair 8800, Gates contacted Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), the creators of the new microcomputer, to inform them that he and others were working on a BASIC interpreter for the platform. In reality, Gates and Allen did not have an Altair and had not written code for it; they merely wanted to gauge MITS’s interest. MITS president Ed Roberts agreed to meet them for a demo, and over the course of a few weeks they developed an Altair emulator that ran on a minicomputer, and then the BASIC interpreter. The demonstration, held at MITS’s offices in Albuquerque, was a success and resulted in a deal with MITS to distribute the interpreter as Altair BASIC. Paul Allen was hired into MITS, and Gates took a leave of absence from Harvard to work with Allen at MITS in Albuquerque in November 1975. They named their partnership “Micro-Soft” and had their first office located in Albuquerque. Within a year, the hyphen was dropped, and on November 26, 1976, the trade name “Microsoft” was registered with the Office of the Secretary of the State of New Mexico. Gates never returned to Harvard to complete his studies.
Microsoft’s Altair BASIC was popular with computer hobbyists, but Gates discovered that a pre-market copy had leaked into the community and was being widely copied and distributed. In February 1976, Gates wrote an Open Letter to Hobbyists in the MITS newsletter in which he asserted that more than 90% of the users of Microsoft Altair BASIC had not paid Microsoft for it and by doing so the Altair “hobby market” was in danger of eliminating the incentive for any professional developers to produce, distribute, and maintain high-quality software. This letter was unpopular with many computer hobbyists, but Gates persisted in his belief that software developers should be able to demand payment. Microsoft became independent of MITS in late 1976, and it continued to develop programming language software for various systems. The company moved from Albuquerque to its new home in Bellevue, Washington, on January 1, 1979.
During Microsoft’s early years, all employees had broad responsibility for the company’s business. Gates oversaw the business details, but continued to write code as well. In the first five years, Gates personally reviewed every line of code the company shipped, and often rewrote parts of it as he saw fit.
IBM approached Microsoft in July 1980 regarding its upcoming personal computer, the IBM PC. The computer company first proposed that Microsoft write the BASIC interpreter. When IBM’s representatives mentioned that they needed an operating system, Gates referred them to Digital Research (DRI), makers of the widely used CP/M operating system. IBM’s discussions with Digital Research went poorly, and they did not reach a licensing agreement. IBM representative Jack Sams mentioned the licensing difficulties during a subsequent meeting with Gates and told him to get an acceptable operating system. A few weeks later, Gates proposed using 86-DOS (QDOS), an operating system similar to CP/M that Tim Paterson of Seattle Computer Products (SCP) had made for hardware similar to the PC. Microsoft made a deal with SCP to become the exclusive licensing agent, and later the full owner, of 86-DOS. After adapting the operating system for the PC, Microsoft delivered it to IBM as PC DOS in exchange for a one-time fee of $50,000.
Gates did not offer to transfer the copyright on the operating system, because he believed that other hardware vendors would clone IBM’s system. They did, and the sales of MS-DOS made Microsoft a major player in the industry. Despite IBM’s name on the operating system the press quickly identified Microsoft as being very influential on the new computer. PC Magazine asked if Gates were “the man behind the machine?”,and InfoWorld quoted an expert as stating “it’s Gates’ computer”. Gates oversaw Microsoft’s company restructuring on June 25, 1981, which re-incorporated the company in Washington state and made Gates the president of Microsoft and its board chairman.
Microsoft launched its first retail version of Microsoft Windows on November 20, 1985, and in August, the company struck a deal with IBM to develop a separate operating system called OS/2. Although the two companies successfully developed the first version of the new system, mounting creative differences caused the partnership to deteriorate.
Bill Gates in January 2008
From Microsoft’s founding in 1975 until 2006, Gates had primary responsibility for the company’s product strategy. He aggressively broadened the company’s range of products, and wherever Microsoft achieved a dominant position he vigorously defended it.He gained a reputation for being distant to others; as early as 1981 an industry executive complained in public that “Gates is notorious for not being reachable by phone and for not returning phone calls.”Another executive recalled that after he showed Gates a game and defeated him 35 of 37 times, when they met again a month later Gates “won or tied every game. He had studied the game until he solved it. That is a competitor.”
As an executive, Gates met regularly with Microsoft’s senior managers and program managers. Firsthand accounts of these meetings describe him as verbally combative, berating managers for perceived holes in their business strategies or proposals that placed the company’s long-term interests at risk. He interrupted presentations with such comments “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”and “Why don’t you just give up your options and join the Peace Corps?” The target of his outburst then had to defend the proposal in detail until, hopefully, Gates was fully convinced. When subordinates appeared to be procrastinating, he was known to remark sarcastically, “I’ll do it over the weekend.”
Gates was an active software developer in Microsoft’s early history, particularly on the company’s programming language products, but his role most of its history was primarily as management and executive. Gates has not officially been on a development team since working on the TRS-80 Model 100, but wrote code as late as 1989 that shipped in the company’s products. He remained interested in technical details; Jerry Pournelle wrote in 1985 that when watching Gates announcing Microsoft Excel, “Something else impressed me. Bill Gates likes the program, not because it’s going to make him a lot of money (although I’m sure it will do that), but because it’s a neat hack.”On June 15, 2006, Gates announced that he would transition out of his day-to-day role over the next two years to dedicate more time to philanthropy. He divided his responsibilities between two successors, placing Ray Ozzie in charge of day-to-day management and Craig Mundie in charge of long-term product strategy.
Further information: United States Microsoft antitrust case and European Union Microsoft competition case
Gates giving his deposition at Microsoft on August 27, 1998
Many decisions that led to antitrust litigation over Microsoft’s business practices have had Gates’ approval. In the 1998 United States v. Microsoft case, Gates gave deposition testimony that several journalists characterized as evasive. He argued with examiner David Boies over the contextual meaning of words such as, “compete”, “concerned”, and “we”. The judge and other observers in the court room were seen laughing at various points during the deposition. BusinessWeek reported:
Early rounds of his deposition show him offering obfuscatory answers and saying ‘I don’t recall,’ so many times that even the presiding judge had to chuckle. Worse, many of the technology chief’s denials and pleas of ignorance were directly refuted by prosecutors with snippets of e-mail that Gates both sent and received.
Gates later said he had simply resisted attempts by Boies to mischaracterize his words and actions. As to his demeanor during the deposition, he said, “Did I fence with Boies? … I plead guilty. Whatever that penalty is should be levied against me: rudeness to Boies in the first degree.”Despite Gates’ denials, the judge ruled that Microsoft had committed monopolization and tying, and blocking competition, both in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Appearance in ads
Gates mugshot of his 1977 arrest for a traffic violation in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Gates appeared in a series of ads to promote Microsoft in 2008. The first commercial, co-starring Jerry Seinfeld, is a 90-second talk between strangers as Seinfeld walks up on a discount shoe store (Shoe Circus) in a mall and notices Gates buying shoes inside. The salesman is trying to sell Mr. Gates shoes that are a size too big. As Gates is buying the shoes, he holds up his discount card, which uses a slightly altered version of his own mugshot of his arrest in New Mexico in 1977, for a traffic violation. As they are walking out of the mall, Seinfeld asks Gates if he has melded his mind to other developers, after getting a “Yes”, he then asks if they are working on a way to make computers edible, again getting a “Yes”. Some say that this is an homage to Seinfeld’s own show about “nothing” (Seinfeld). In a second commercial in the series, Gates and Seinfeld are at the home of an average family trying to fit in with normal people.
Since leaving day-to-day operations at Microsoft, Gates has continued his philanthropy and works on other projects.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Gates was the world’s highest-earning billionaire in 2013, as his fortune increased by US$15.8 billion to US$78.5 billion. As of January 2014, most of Gates’ assets are held in Cascade Investment LLC, an entity through which he owns stakes in numerous businesses, including Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and Corbis Corp. On February 4, 2014, Gates stepped down as chairman of Microsoft to become Technology Advisor alongside Satya Nadella.
In a substantial interview with Rolling Stone magazine, published in March 27, 2014 issue, Gates provided his perspective on a range of issues, such as climate change, his charitable activities, various tech companies and people involved in them, and the state of America. In response to a question about his greatest fear when he looks 50 years into the future, Gates stated: “… there’ll be some really bad things that’ll happen in the next 50 or 100 years, but hopefully none of them on the scale of, say, a million people that you didn’t expect to die from a pandemic, or nuclear or bioterrorism.” Gates also identified innovation as the “real driver of progress” and pronounced that “America’s way better today than it’s ever been.”Gates’ days are planned for him, similar to the US President’s schedule, on a minute-by-minute basis.
Bill and Melinda Gates in June 2009
Gates married Melinda French in Hawaii on January 1, 1994; he was 38 and she was 29. They have three children: Jennifer Katharine (born 1996), Rory John (born 1999), and Phoebe Adele (born 2002). The family resides in the Gates’ home, an earth-sheltered house in the side of a hill overlooking Lake Washington in Medina near Seattle in the state of Washington, United States. According to 2007 King County public records, the total assessed value of the property (land and house) is $125 million, and the annual property tax is $991,000. The 66,000 sq ft (6,100 m2) estate has a 60-foot (18 m) swimming pool with an underwater music system, as well as a 2,500 sq ft (230 m2) gym and a 1,000 sq ft (93 m2) dining room.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Gates stated in regard to his faith:
The moral systems of religion, I think, are super important. We’ve raised our kids in a religious way; they’ve gone to the Catholic church that Melinda goes to and I participate in. I’ve been very lucky, and therefore I owe it to try and reduce the inequity in the world. And that’s kind of a religious belief. I mean, it’s at least a moral belief.
In the same interview, Gates said: “I agree with people like Richard Dawkins that mankind felt the need for creation myths. Before we really began to understand disease and the weather and things like that, we sought false explanations for them. Now science has filled in some of the realm – not all – that religion used to fill. But the mystery and the beauty of the world is overwhelmingly amazing, and there’s no scientific explanation of how it came about. To say that it was generated by random numbers, that does seem, you know, sort of an uncharitable view [laughs]. I think it makes sense to believe in God, but exactly what decision in your life you make differently because of it, I don’t know.”
Among Gates’ private acquisitions is the Codex Leicester, a collection of writings by Leonardo da Vinci, which Gates bought for $30.8 million at an auction in 1994. Gates is also known as an avid reader, and the ceiling of his large home library is engraved with a quotation from The Great Gatsby. He also enjoys playing bridge, tennis, and golf.
Gates was number one on the Forbes 400 list from 1993 through to 2007, and number one on Forbes list of The World’s Richest People from 1995 to 2007 and 2009. In 1999, his wealth briefly surpassed $101 billion, causing the media to call Gates a “centibillionaire”.Despite his wealth and extensive business travel Gates usually flew coach until 1997, when he bought a private jet. Since 2000, the nominal value of his Microsoft holdings has declined due to a fall in Microsoft’s stock price after the dot-com bubble burst and the multibillion-dollar donations he has made to his charitable foundations. In a May 2006 interview, Gates commented that he wished that he were not the richest man in the world because he disliked the attention it brought. In March 2010, Gates was the second wealthiest person behind Carlos Slim, but regained the top position in 2013, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires List. Carlos Slim retook the position again in June 2014 (but then lost the top position back to Gates).
Gates has several investments outside Microsoft, which in 2006 paid him a salary of $616,667 and $350,000 bonus totalling $966,667. He founded Corbis, a digital imaging company, in 1989. In 2004, he became a director of Berkshire Hathaway, the investment company headed by long-time friend Warren Buffett. In 2016 he revealed that he was color-blind when discussing his gaming habits.
Gates with Bono, Queen Rania of Jordan, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, President Umaru Yar’Adua of Nigeria and others during the Annual Meeting 2008 of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Main article: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Gates studied the work of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, and in 1994, sold some of his Microsoft stock to create the “William H. Gates Foundation.” In 2000, Gates and his wife combined three family foundations to create the charitable Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was identified by the Funds for NGOs company in 2013, as the world’s wealthiest charitable foundation, with assets reportedly valued at more than $34.6 billion. The Foundation allows benefactors to access information that shows how its money is being spent, unlike other major charitable organizations such as the Wellcome Trust.
The foundation is organized into four program areas: Global Development Division, Global Health Division, United States Division, and Global Policy & Advocacy Division.
Gates has credited the generosity and extensive philanthropy of David Rockefeller as a major influence. Gates and his father met with Rockefeller several times, and their charity work is partly modeled on the Rockefeller family’s philanthropic focus, whereby they are interested in tackling the global problems that are ignored by governments and other organizations. As of 2007, Bill and Melinda Gates were the second-most generous philanthropists in America, having given over $28 billion to charity; the couple plan to eventually donate 95 percent of their wealth to charity.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports the use of genetically modified organisms in agricultural development. Specifically, the foundation is supporting the International Rice Research Institute in developing Golden Rice, a genetically modified rice variant used to combat Vitamin A deficiency.
Melinda Gates suggested that people should emulate the philanthropic efforts of the Salwen family, which had sold its home and given away half of its value, as detailed in The Power of Half. Gates and his wife invited Joan Salwen to Seattle to speak about what the family had done, and on December 9, 2010, Gates, investor Warren Buffett, and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg signed a commitment they called the “Gates-Buffet Giving Pledge.” The pledge is a commitment by all three to donate at least half of their wealth over the course of time to charity.
Gates has recently expressed concern about the existential threats of superintelligence; in a Reddit “ask me anything”, he stated that
First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.
In a March 2015 interview, with Baidu’s CEO, Robin Li, Gates claimed he would “highly recommend” Nick Bostrom’s recent work, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.
Gates has also provided personal donations to educational institutions. In 1999, Gates donated $20 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for the construction of a computer laboratory named the “William H. Gates Building” that was designed by architect Frank O. Gehry. While Microsoft had previously given financial support to the institution, this was the first personal donation received from Gates.
The Maxwell Dworkin Laboratory of the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is named after the mothers of both Gates and Microsoft President Steven A. Ballmer, both of whom were students (Ballmer was a member of the School’s graduating class of 1977, while Gates left his studies for Microsoft), and donated funds for the laboratory’s construction. Gates also donated $6 million to the construction of the Gates Computer Science Building, completed in January 1996, on the campus of Stanford University. The building contains the Computer Science Department (CSD) and the Computer Systems Laboratory (CSL) of Stanford’s Engineering department.
On August 15, 2014, Bill Gates posted a video of himself dumping a bucket of ice water on his head, after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg challenged him to do so, in order to raise awareness for the disease ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
Bill Gates and his foundation are taking an interest in solving global sanitation problems since about 2005, for example by announcing the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” which has received considerable media interest. To raise awareness for the topic of sanitation and possible solutions, Bill Gates drank water which was “produced from human feces” in 2014 – in fact it was produced from a sewage sludge treatment process called the Omni-processor. In early 2015, he also appeared with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show and challenged him to see if he could taste the difference between this reclaimed water or bottled water.
Bill and Melinda Gates have said that they intend to leave their three children $10 million each as their inheritance. With only $30 million kept in the family, they appear to be on a course to give away about 99.96 percent of their wealth.
In 2007, the Los Angeles Times criticized the foundation for investing its assets in companies which have been accused of worsening poverty, polluting heavily, and pharmaceutical companies that do not sell into the developing world. In response to press criticism, the foundation announced a review of its investments to assess social responsibility. It subsequently canceled the review and stood by its policy of investing for maximum return, while using voting rights to influence company practices. The Gates Millennium Scholars program has been criticized by Ernest W. Lefever for its exclusion of Caucasian students. The scholarship program is administered by the United Negro College Fund. In 2014, Bill Gates sparked a protest in Vancouver when he decided to donate 50 million dollars to UNAIDS through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the purpose of mass circumcision in Zambia and Swaziland.
Gates and Steve Jobs at the fifth D: All Things Digital conference (D5) in 2007
In 1987, Gates was listed as a billionaire in Forbes magazine’s 400 Richest People in America issue, just days before his 32nd birthday. As the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, he was worth $1.25 billion, over $900 million more than he’d been worth the year before, when he’d debuted on the list.
Time magazine named Gates one of the 100 people who most influenced the 20th century, as well as one of the 100 most influential people of 2004, 2005, and 2006. Time also collectively named Gates, his wife Melinda and U2’s lead singer Bono as the 2005 Persons of the Year for their humanitarian efforts. In 2006, he was voted eighth in the list of “Heroes of our time”. Gates was listed in the Sunday Times power list in 1999, named CEO of the year by Chief Executive Officers magazine in 1994, ranked number one in the “Top 50 Cyber Elite” by Time in 1998, ranked number two in the Upside Elite 100 in 1999, and was included in The Guardian as one of the “Top 100 influential people in media” in 2001.
According to Forbes, Gates was ranked as the fourth most powerful person in the world in 2012, up from fifth in 2011.
In 1994, he was honored as the twentieth Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society. In 1999, Gates received New York Institute of Technology’s President’s Medal. Gates has received honorary doctorates from Nyenrode Business Universiteit, Breukelen, The Netherlands, in 2000;KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, in 2002;Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan, in 2005; Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, in April 2007; Harvard University in June 2007;Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, in 2007,and Cambridge University in June 2009.He was also made an honorary trustee of Peking University in 2007.