Who is Bill Gates? Learn about the life and legacy of this American businessman, inventor, philanthropist, and co-founder of Microsoft. Discover his impact on technology, philanthropy, global health, climate change, and more.
The Journey of Bill Gates: From Microsoft to Global Philanthropy
Born on October 28, 1955, William Henry Gates III is a distinguished American businessman, computer scientist, and philanthropist. He achieved prominence as the principal founder of Microsoft, the software behemoth, alongside his late childhood friend and fellow entrepreneur, Paul Allen. Throughout his tenure at Microsoft, Gates assumed various roles, including chairman, CEO, president, and chief software architect, while also being its largest individual shareholder until May 2014.
Gates, a Seattle native, partnered with Allen in 1975 to establish Microsoft in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The company swiftly ascended to become the world's largest personal computer software enterprise. Gates led Microsoft as chairman and CEO until January 2000, when Steve Ballmer succeeded him. Gates, however, continued as chairman of the board and assumed the role of chief software architect. Critics disparaged his business tactics as anti-competitive during the late 1990s, with several court rulings supporting this view.
In June 2008, Gates scaled back his involvement at Microsoft to focus on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest private charity he established with his then-wife Melinda in 2000. In February 2014, Gates relinquished his position as chairman and transitioned to a technology adviser role, aiding newly-appointed CEO Satya Nadella. Gates withdrew from his board positions at Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway in March 2020 to concentrate on philanthropic endeavors, particularly climate change, global health, development, and education.
Forbes has consistently featured Gates on its list of the world's wealthiest individuals since 1987. He held the title of the richest person in the world for most years between 1995 and 2017, only relinquishing it briefly between 2010 and 2013. In October 2017, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos surpassed Gates, with a net worth of US$90.6 billion compared to Gates's US$89.9 billion. As of March 2023, Gates's estimated net worth is US$116 billion, making him the fourth-richest person worldwide according to Bloomberg News.
Following his departure from Microsoft's day-to-day operations in 2008, Gates embarked on various business and philanthropic ventures. He founded and chaired several companies, including BEN, Cascade Investment, TerraPower, bgC3, and Breakthrough Energy. Through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates has generously contributed to numerous charitable organizations and scientific research programs. His early 21st-century vaccination campaign played a significant role in eradicating the wild poliovirus in Africa.
In 2010, Gates and Warren Buffett initiated The Giving Pledge, encouraging billionaires to commit at least half of their wealth to philanthropy. As a technologist, business leader, and philanthropist, Gates has left an indelible mark on the world, driving innovation in technology, healthcare, and climate change while advocating for global health and education.
The Formative Years of Bill Gates: Early Life and Education
Born in Seattle, Washington, on October 28, 1955, Bill Gates is an influential American computer programmer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. He is the son of William H. Gates Sr. and Mary Maxwell Gates, and his lineage includes English, German, and Irish/Scots-Irish ancestry. Gates's father was a distinguished lawyer, while his mother served on the board of directors for First Interstate BancSystem and the United Way of America. His maternal grandfather, J.W. Maxwell, was a national bank president. Gates grew up with two sisters, Kristi and Libby, in the Sand Point neighborhood of Seattle.
Throughout his childhood, Gates's parents encouraged him to consider a legal career. His family was active in the Congregational Christian Churches, a Protestant Reformed denomination. Despite being small for his age and facing bullying, Gates thrived in a competitive family environment.
At 13, Gates attended Lakeside School, a private preparatory institution, where he discovered his passion for programming. When the school's Mothers' Club purchased a Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal and computer time on a General Electric (GE) computer, Gates became engrossed in programming the GE system in BASIC. He wrote his first software program, a tic-tac-toe game, while still in eighth grade. Gates and other students formed the Lakeside Programmers Club to gain access to additional computer systems, such as the DEC PDP minicomputers.
Gates and his friends collaborated on various projects, including automating Lakeside School's class-scheduling system. After losing his best friend and business partner, Kent Evans, in a tragic accident, Gates teamed up with Paul Allen to complete the project. Together, they started Traf-O-Data, a venture to create traffic counters based on the Intel 8008 processor.
After scoring 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT, Gates enrolled at Harvard College in 1973, intending to pursue a pre-law major. However, he soon gravitated toward mathematics and graduate-level computer science courses. During his time at Harvard, Gates met Steve Ballmer, who later became Microsoft's CEO.
Gates continued to develop his programming skills, devising an algorithm for pancake sorting that held the record as the fastest version for over 30 years. He also collaborated with Harvard computer scientist Christos Papadimitriou to formalize and publish his solution. Gates remained in contact with Paul Allen and eventually dropped out of Harvard in 1975 to co-found Microsoft with him, seizing the opportunity presented by the release of the MITS Altair 8800 based on the Intel 8080 CPU. With his parents' support, Gates embarked on a journey to revolutionize the world of technology and philanthropy.
Bill Gates: The Journey of a Visionary Technologist, Business Leader, and Philanthropist
The Birth of Microsoft and the Creation of BASIC
In January 1975, Bill Gates came across an issue of Popular Electronics featuring the Altair 8800, which sparked his interest in developing a BASIC interpreter for the platform. Despite not having an Altair or any code written for it, Gates and his partner Paul Allen contacted Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) to gauge their interest. After a successful demonstration using an Altair emulator, MITS agreed to distribute their interpreter as Altair BASIC, and both Gates and Allen began working with the company. The duo named their partnership "Micro-Soft," which later became "Microsoft."
Microsoft's Altair BASIC became popular among computer hobbyists, but Gates was concerned about unauthorized copying and distribution. In an open letter published in the MITS newsletter, Gates emphasized the importance of software developers being compensated for their work. Microsoft eventually became independent of MITS and continued developing programming language software for various systems.
IBM Partnership and the Rise of DOS
IBM approached Microsoft in 1980 to develop software for its upcoming personal computer, the IBM PC. Microsoft provided them with a BASIC interpreter and an operating system called PC DOS, based on Tim Paterson's 86-DOS. IBM's adoption of Microsoft's operating system played a crucial role in transforming Microsoft into the leading software company in the world.
The Evolution of Windows and Gates' Management Style
Microsoft released its first retail version of Windows in 1985, eventually leading to a series of updates culminating in Windows 95, which hid the DOS prompt by default. Bill Gates actively participated in software development during Microsoft's early years but transitioned to a managerial and executive role as the company grew.
Post-Microsoft Activities and Philanthropy
Since stepping down from day-to-day operations at Microsoft, Gates has focused on philanthropy and other projects. He has expressed concerns about climate change, the state of America, and the potential dangers of superintelligence. He has also been involved in efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, including the establishment of the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator.
Bill Gates' journey as a computer scientist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist has left a lasting impact on the world of technology, healthcare, and philanthropy. His vision and dedication have contributed significantly to global progress, and his legacy continues to shape the future.
Bill Gates' Diverse Business Ventures and Investment Portfolio
Bill Gates, an American business magnate, philanthropist, and investor, has an extensive investment portfolio spanning multiple sectors. As the principal founder of Microsoft, he has since ventured into various businesses and investments beyond the software giant. Here is a partial list of Gates' business ventures and investments:
- AutoNation: Gates holds a 16% stake in this automotive retailer listed on the NYSE.
- bgC3 LLC: A think-tank and research company founded by Gates.
- Canadian National Railway (CN): Gates is the largest single shareholder of this Canadian Class I freight railway.
- Cascade Investment LLC: A private investment and holding company founded and controlled by Gates, based in Kirkland, Washington. Through Cascade Investment, Gates owns 242,000 acres of farmland across 19 states, making him the top private owner of farmland in the US.
- Carbon Engineering: A for-profit venture founded by David Keith, which Gates helped fund. The company is also supported by Chevron Corporation and Occidental Petroleum.
- SCoPEx: Gates provided most of the $12 million for this academic venture in "sun-dimming" geoengineering, led by David Keith.
- Corbis: A digital image licensing and rights services company founded and chaired by Gates, now known as Branded Entertainment Network.
- EarthNow: A Seattle-based startup aiming to provide live satellite video coverage of the Earth, backed by Gates.
- Eclipse Aviation: Gates was a major stakeholder in this now-defunct manufacturer of very light jets.
- Impossible Foods: Gates contributed to the funding of this company, which develops plant-based meat substitutes.
- Ecolab: Gates owns 11.6% of this global provider of water, hygiene, and energy technologies and services.
- ResearchGate: A social networking site for scientists that Gates invested in alongside other investors.
- TerraPower: A nuclear reactor design company co-founded and chaired by Gates, focused on developing next-generation traveling-wave reactor nuclear power plants to address climate change.
- Breakthrough Energy Ventures: Founded by Gates in 2015, this closed fund invests in green start-ups and other low-carbon entrepreneurial projects.
- Ginkgo Bioworks: Gates' investment firm, Cascade Investment, contributed to the funding of this biotech startup.
- Luminous Computing: A company developing neuromorphic photonic integrated circuits for AI acceleration.
- Mologic: Gates, along with the Soros Economic Development Fund, purchased this British diagnostic technology company, which has developed affordable 10-minute Covid lateral flow tests.
Bill Gates' Advocacy for Climate Change Solutions and Clean Energy Innovations
Bill Gates, a renowned technologist, business leader, and philanthropist, is deeply concerned about climate change and the global accessibility of clean energy. He has called on governments and the private sector to invest in research and development to make sustainable, reliable energy more affordable. Gates believes that breakthroughs in sustainable energy technology can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and poverty while stabilizing energy prices and delivering economic benefits.
In 2015, Gates discussed the challenge of transitioning the world's energy system from one primarily reliant on fossil fuels to one based on sustainable energy sources. He emphasized the importance of accelerating the pace of innovation and having a sense of urgency in driving the energy transition. Gates' vision for rapid change depends on increased government funding for basic research and private-sector investments in high-risk ventures, focusing on areas such as nuclear energy, grid energy storage, and solar fuels.
Gates launched two initiatives at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. Mission Innovation involved 20 national governments pledging to double their spending on research and development for carbon-free energy within five years. Breakthrough Energy was a group of investors committed to funding high-risk startups in clean energy technologies. Gates had already invested $1 billion of his own money in innovative energy startups and pledged another $1 billion to Breakthrough Energy.
Despite his advocacy for clean energy, Gates has faced criticism for holding a large stake in Signature Aviation, a company servicing emissions-intensive private jets. However, Gates began divesting from fossil fuels in 2019 and has emphasized the importance of providing alternative energy solutions.
In June 2021, Gates' company TerraPower, in partnership with Warren Buffett's PacifiCorp, announced the first sodium nuclear reactor in Wyoming, which was hailed as a step toward carbon-negative nuclear power. Gates has also been active in supporting climate legislation, such as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which aims to significantly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, in line with the Paris Agreement's target.
Bill Gates' Views on Technology, Politics, and Society
Bill Gates on Donald Trump's Social Media Ban
After Facebook and Twitter banned Donald Trump from their platforms following the 2020 United States presidential election and the January 6 Capitol attack, Gates expressed concerns about a permanent ban. He believed that banning Trump permanently would be a "shame" and an "extreme measure" that could cause polarization among users with differing political views. Gates also argued that a permanent ban for someone who received a significant number of votes during the election might not be beneficial.
Bill Gates on Regulation of the Software Industry
In 1998, Bill Gates opposed the need for regulation of the software industry while testifying before the United States Senate. During the Federal Trade Commission's investigation of Microsoft in the 1990s, Gates expressed frustration with Commissioner Dennis Yao for suggesting possible restrictions on Microsoft's growing monopoly power, calling Yao's ideas "socialistic" and "communistic."
Bill Gates on Cryptocurrencies
Gates is critical of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, claiming that they provide no valuable output, contribute nothing to society, and pose a danger particularly for smaller investors who could suffer significant losses. Gates does not own any cryptocurrencies himself.
Bill Gates on Patents for COVID-19 Vaccines
In April 2021, Gates faced criticism for suggesting that pharmaceutical companies should retain patents for COVID-19 vaccines, potentially preventing poorer nations from obtaining adequate vaccines. He opposed the TRIPS waiver and advocated for Oxford University to sell its COVID-19 information to a single industry partner, rather than giving it away. Critics have linked Gates' views on legal monopolies in medicine to his views on legal monopolies in the software industry.
Bill Gates: A Legacy of Philanthropy
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Inspired by the philanthropic efforts of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, Gates created the "William H. Gates Foundation" in 1994 by donating some of his Microsoft stock. In 2000, he and his wife combined three family foundations and contributed stock valued at $5 billion to establish the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recognized in 2013 by Funds for NGOs as the world's wealthiest charitable foundation with assets valued at over $34.6 billion. The foundation offers benefactors access to information on how funds are spent, setting it apart from other major charitable organizations like the Wellcome Trust.
Gates has cited David Rockefeller's generosity and extensive philanthropy as significant influences on his own charity work. He and his father met with Rockefeller several times, modeling their foundation's focus on addressing global issues often overlooked by governments and organizations after the Rockefeller family's approach. By 2007, Bill and Melinda Gates had become America's second-most generous philanthropists, giving over $28 billion to charity and planning to donate 95% of their wealth eventually.
The foundation focuses on five program areas: Global Development Division, Global Health Division, United States Division, and Global Policy & Advocacy Division. It supports a wide array of public health initiatives, such as combating infectious diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, as well as promoting widespread vaccination programs to eradicate polio. Additionally, the foundation funds educational institutions, libraries, scholarships, and sustainable sanitation services in impoverished countries.
Personal Philanthropic Endeavors
Gates has made numerous personal donations to educational institutions, such as a $20 million contribution to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1999 for the construction of the "William H. Gates Building," designed by architect Frank Gehry. Gates and his wife invited Joan Salwen to Seattle to discuss her family's philanthropic efforts, as detailed in their book, The Power of Half. On December 9, 2010, Bill and Melinda Gates, along with investor Warren Buffett, signed the "Giving Pledge," committing to donate at least half of their wealth to charity over time.
Gates has also shown interest in addressing global sanitation issues. In 2005, he and his foundation announced the "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge," aiming to develop innovative solutions for sanitation problems. To raise awareness, Gates even drank water produced from human feces through a sewage sludge treatment process called the Omni Processor in 2014.
In November 2017, Gates committed $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund, which seeks treatment for Alzheimer's disease, and pledged another $50 million to start-up ventures working on Alzheimer's research. Bill and Melinda Gates have stated their intent to leave their three children $10 million each as their inheritance, ultimately giving away about 99.96% of their wealth. In 2018, Gates donated $600,000 through his foundation to UNICEF, aiding flood victims in Kerala, India.
Charitable Sporting Events
Gates has participated in charity sports events, such as the Match for Africa 4 in 2017, partnering with Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer. The event raised $2 million for children in Africa. In 2018, Gates and Federer played in the Match for Africa 5, raising over $2.5 million.
In June 2018, Gates offered free ebooks to all new graduates of U.S. colleges and universities, expanding the offer to all college and university students worldwide in 2021. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation partially
The Life and Times of Bill Gates: From Microsoft Founder to Philanthropic Business Magnate
Bill Gates, a computer scientist, entrepreneur, and businessman, has a rich personal life beyond his work. He is an avid reader and enjoys bridge, tennis, and golf. His daily schedule is planned to the minute, much like that of the US president. Despite his wealth, Gates used to fly coach on commercial airlines until 1997 when he purchased a private jet. He has a keen interest in art and paid $30.8 million for the Codex Leicester, a collection of scientific writings by Leonardo da Vinci, and $30 million for the original 1885 maritime painting Lost on the Grand Banks, at the time a record price for an American painting. Gates also revealed in 2016 that he is color-blind.
Bill Gates Wealth: the Multi-Billion Dollar Genius
Bill Gates is known for his wealth, which he has accrued through his success in the technology industry and his investments. In 1999, his net worth briefly surpassed US$100 billion, making him the first person ever to achieve this feat. However, 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 multi-billion dollar donations he has made to his charitable foundations.
In May 2006, Gates expressed that he wished he were not the richest man in the world because he disliked the attention it brought. Gates has made several investments outside of Microsoft, including founding Corbis, a digital imaging company in 1989, and becoming a director of Berkshire Hathaway, the investment company headed by long-time friend Warren Buffett, in 2004.
Gates has been listed as a billionaire in Forbes magazine's first-ever America's richest issue in 1987, where he was also the world's youngest self-made billionaire with a net worth of $1.25 billion. He has been included in Forbes The World's Billionaires list since 1987 and was the wealthiest person from 1995 to 1996, 1998 to 2007, 2009, and held the spot until 2018 before being overtaken by Jeff Bezos.
In 2017, Gates had held the top spot on the list of The World's Billionaires for 18 out of the previous 23 years. Between 2009 and 2014, his wealth doubled from US$40 billion to US$82 billion. Despite his immense wealth, Gates has paid more tax than any individual ever, and he is a proponent of higher taxes, particularly for the rich.
Marriage with Melinda and Divorce
Gates married Melinda French in 1994, and they have three children. At the time of their marriage, Gates was given permission by Melinda to spend limited time with his ex-girlfriend, businesswoman Ann Winblad. The family's residence is a 66,000-square-foot earth-sheltered mansion overlooking Lake Washington in Medina, Washington, with a 60-foot swimming pool, a 2,500-square-foot gym, and a 1,000-square-foot dining room. The couple announced their divorce on May 3, 2021, after 27 years of marriage and 34 years as a couple. They said they would continue working together on charitable efforts. The divorce was finalized on August 2, 2021.
Bill Gates Religious Views
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Bill Gates discussed his religious views. He believes that the moral systems of religion are crucial, and that he has raised his children in a religious way, attending the Catholic Church with his wife Melinda. Gates also expressed his belief that he has been fortunate in life and therefore has a responsibility to reduce the inequity in the world, which he views as a moral belief.
Regarding creation myths, Gates agrees with people like Richard Dawkins that mankind felt the need for them, but he thinks that the mystery and beauty of the world is overwhelmingly amazing, and there is no scientific explanation of how it came about. Gates said that he thinks it makes sense to believe in God, but he does not know exactly what decisions in his life he would make differently because of it.
The Importance of Bill Gates Public Image
Gates's public image has evolved over time, from a brilliant but ruthless "robber baron" to a philanthropic business magnate. After stepping down as head of Microsoft and founding the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he spent over $50 billion on causes like health, poverty, and education, earning him the reputation of a "huggable billionaire techno-philanthropist."
However, his image suffered in 2021 due to his divorce and reports about his ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Additionally, investigative journalist Tim Schwab accused Gates of using his contributions to the media to shape their coverage of him to protect his public image. Gates and his foundation have also been the subject of many unfounded conspiracy theories, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Controversies surrounding Bill Gates
Bill Gates, as the co-founder and CEO of Microsoft, was responsible for many of the business practices that led to antitrust litigation. In the United States v. Microsoft case in 1998, Gates gave deposition testimony that was widely criticized for being evasive. The presiding judge was seen laughing and shaking his head during portions of the videotaped deposition played back in court.
BusinessWeek reported that Gates offered obfuscatory answers and pleaded ignorance so often that prosecutors were able to directly refute many of his denials and pleas with snippets of email that Gates both sent and received. Gates later claimed that he had simply resisted attempts to mischaracterize his words and actions, but the judge ruled that Microsoft had committed monopolization, tying, and blocking competition, all in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Treatment of colleagues and employees
Gates gained a reputation for being distant from others, often difficult to reach by phone and not returning phone calls. He was known to be verbally combative with Microsoft's senior managers and program managers, berating them for perceived holes in their business strategies or proposals that placed the company's long-term interests at risk.
Gates saw competition in personal terms, and when Borland's Turbo Pascal performed better than Microsoft's own tools, he berated programming director Greg Whitten for half an hour. Gates would interrupt presentations with dismissive comments and sarcastic remarks. He has been accused of bullying Microsoft employees.
In the early 1980s, while business partner Paul Allen was undergoing cancer treatment, Gates conspired to reduce Allen's share in Microsoft by issuing himself stock options, according to Allen. In his autobiography, Allen accused Gates of "scheming to rip me off. It was mercenary opportunism plain and simple." Gates says he remembers the episode differently. Allen also recalled that Gates was prone to shouting episodes.
Relationship with Jeffrey Epstein
Bill Gates's relationship with financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was convicted of procuring a child for prostitution, started in 2011, just a few years after Epstein's conviction, and continued for some years, including a visit to Epstein's house with Melinda in the fall of 2013, despite her declared discomfort.
Gates initially said that Epstein's lifestyle was intriguing, although it would not work for him, but he later claimed that he did not have any business relationship or friendship with Epstein. However, it was reported that they discussed the Gates Foundation and philanthropy, and that they met with Nobel Committee chair Thorbjørn Jagland at his residence in Strasbourg, France, in March 2013 to discuss the Nobel Prize.
Representatives of the International Peace Institute, which has received millions in grants from the Gates Foundation, were also in attendance. Gates has since admitted that it was a mistake to spend time with Epstein and to give him credibility.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Bill Gates own Microsoft?
Bill Gates is one of the co-founders of Microsoft Corporation, but he does not own it outright. He held various positions at Microsoft throughout his career, including chairman, CEO, and chief software architect, before stepping down from his day-to-day role in 2008. He remained on the board of directors until 2020, when he resigned to focus on his philanthropic work through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. However, Gates still holds a significant amount of Microsoft shares and remains one of its largest individual shareholders.
What did Bill Gates invent?
Bill Gates is known for co-founding Microsoft, which he started in 1975 with his childhood friend Paul Allen. Together, they created the first version of the Microsoft operating system, which they called MS-DOS. Gates also played a key role in the development of the Windows operating system, which was released in 1985 and became the dominant operating system for personal computers. In addition to his work on operating systems, Gates played a key role in the development of software applications such as Microsoft Office, which includes programs such as Word and Excel.
While Gates is primarily known for his work at Microsoft, he has also been involved in other ventures such as the development of nuclear energy technology through his company TerraPower and his philanthropic work through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Bill Gates Quotes
Here are some of Bill Gates most famous quotes.
Life is not fair, get used to it.
Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose.
It's fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.
To see more Bill Gates quotes, we recommend visiting the Bill Gates Quote section in Quotes Analysis.
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