A Rare & Remarkable Interview With Bill Gates

A Rare & Remarkable Interview With Bill Gates

Jun 14




By Caroline Graham
Mail Online
June 11, 2011

Original Link

(Visit the link above to see photos of Bill Gates, his wife and his work.)

Rocking gently in his chair, he begins to sing: ‘I wanna be a billionaire so freakin’ bad. Buy all the things I never had. I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine. Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen…’

Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars’s hit Billionaire reached No 3 on both sides of the Atlantic last year. The irony of the lyrics isn’t lost on either of us. They are, Gates chuckles, regularly used by his three children to poke fun at him.

At 55, he has graced the cover of Forbes magazine many times. As the co-founder, with Paul Allen, of Microsoft, he grew a 1975 back-room start-up into a software behemoth worth, at its peak, $400 billion. Oprah Winfrey is a close friend; the pair meet regularly and she has discussed signing his ‘Giving Pledge’ to donate the bulk of her $2.7 billion estate to charity.
And the Queen? Well, she gave him an honorary knighthood back in 2005.

‘The Billionaire song is what my kids tease me with,’ he says. ‘They sing it to me. It’s funny.’

They have apparently also introduced him to the ‘joys’ of Lady Gaga, ‘but the 12-year-old is always worried about the nine-year-old listening to songs with bad words. So he’s like, “No! Skip that one!” So I only know some Lady Gaga songs.’

It’s probably just as well his children have a well-developed sense of humour. Gates is officially the second richest man in the world, only losing the No 1 spot to Mexican businessman Carlos Slim last year, after holding it for nearly two decades, on a technicality; he has given away $28 billion to charity, so is now personally worth ‘only’ $56 billion.

But Jennifer, 15, Rory, 12, and Phoebe, nine, aren’t going to inherit anything like that much.

‘I don’t think that amount of money would be good for them.’

He won’t specify what they will get, but the reports that they’ll receive ‘only’ $10 million each can’t be far off, because he concedes, ‘It will be a minuscule portion of my wealth. It will mean they have to find their own way.

‘They will be given an unbelievable education and that will all be paid for. And certainly anything related to health issues we will take care of. But in terms of their income, they will have to pick a job they like and go to work. They are normal kids now. They do chores, they get pocket money.’

He is determined that his family life should be as unaffected as possible by his fortune, and that he should be a hands-on father.

‘I never took a day off in my twenties. Not one. And I’m still fanatical, but now I’m a little less fanatical. I play tennis, I play bridge, I spend time with my family. I drive myself around town in a normal Mercedes. I’ve had a Lexus. The family has a Porsche, which is a nice car that we sometimes take out. We have a minivan and that’s what we use when it’s the five of us. My eldest daughter rides horses, so we go to a lot of three-day shows. The kids are a big part of my schedule.’

Has he succumbed to the inevitable pleas from the children for an iPad, iPhone and iPod? His face hardens: ‘They have the Windows equivalent. They have a Zune music player, which is a great Windows portable player. They are not deprived children.’

He mentions a U2 concert he attended the previous night in Seattle, which has been the talk of the town. He has been friends with Bono for years; along with his wife, he shared the cover of Time magazine with him in 2005, when the trio, dubbed ‘The Good Samaritans’ for their philanthropy, were named ‘Persons of the Year’.

‘We went to the concert with my daughter and three of her friends, so there were six of us and we took the minivan. I drove.’

Did Bono invite them backstage? A long pause, then: ‘Umm, no — actually, he stayed at our house.’ Of course.

There’s something surreal about hearing Gates talk on such a personal level. Meeting him is comparable to meeting a head of state. We’re in a conference room in the sparkling new home of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, a $500 million glass-walled, eco-friendly office space which Gates jokes is ‘mostly the brainchild of my wife — I just signed all the cheques’.

To say that Gates is socially awkward is putting it mildly. This is a man who built a multi-billion-dollar company yet seems totally unaware of the social niceties of life. His voice is loud and oddly high-pitched. He’s in constant motion as he speaks, rocking in his chair with his arms folded protectively in front of him, tapping his toes, fiddling with a pen. He fails to look me in the eye and doesn’t engage in small talk.

I ask him whether this is it now — is Microsoft history to him, replaced in his heart by his philanthropy? He retired from the day-to-day running of Microsoft in 2008, with many believing it has since lost its edge to companies like Apple and Google.

He says, ‘My full-time work for the rest of my life is this foundation.’

Will he ever return to helm Microsoft?

‘No. I’m part-time involved. But this is my job now.’

His foundation has assets worth $37.1 billion, thanks in part to contributions of shares from his mentor, American ‘uber-investor’ Warren Buffett. But forget the figures. The only thing Gates wants you to know is that he intends to give it all away.

Famously publicity-shy, he has granted this rare one-on-one interview to Live not — unsurprisingly — to talk about what non-Apple gadgets his children have, but to promote a ‘pledging conference’ for donors and partners of the GAVI Alliance (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, which Gates co-founded in 2000) that kicks off in London on Monday.

Hosted by David Cameron, the event marks the culmination of a drive, spearheaded by Gates, to raise $3.7 billion to vaccinate 243 million children in the world’s poorest countries against illnesses such as pneumonia and measles. Gates and Cameron are expected to announce the money has been successfully raised and, it’s hoped, will save four million lives over the next four years.

His foundation began humbly in 1994 after a double whammy that made the billionaire think about his own mortality. It was the year Gates married Melinda, 46, a former Microsoft manager, and when his much-loved mother Mary, a former teacher and businesswoman, died of breast cancer.

After Mary’s death, Gates’s father Bill Sr, feeling listless, started ploughing through the stacks of begging letters which had piled up at his son’s office, simply ‘for something to do’. He would send the requests he thought worthy to his son, who would then write the cheques, which Bill Sr would send out with brief notes. Bill Sr is now co-chair of the foundation, and still shows up for work every day, despite being 85.

In a letter to her daughter-in-law on the eve of the wedding, Mary Gates wrote, ‘From those to whom much is given, much is expected.’
Gates still has the letter.

‘It was six months before my mum died, so of course we kept that. It’s at home.’

Gates decided vaccinating the world’s disadvantaged is a cost-effective, simple way to help the very poor.

‘You get more bang for your buck.’

Why not be the guy who cures cancer instead?

‘The motto of the foundation is that every life has equal value. There are more people dying of malaria than any specific cancer. When you die of malaria aged three it’s different from being in your seventies, when you might die of a heart attack or you might die of cancer. And the world is putting massive amounts into cancer, so my wealth would have had a meaningless impact on that.’

He is swift to praise the Prime Minister for increasing Britain’s foreign aid.

‘What David Cameron is doing is something to be proud of. The UK has led the way, particularly in getting value for money. Your government went and ranked the various aid groups. Some came out poorly and some came out very strongly. GAVI was ranked one of the best of all, because if you give those vaccines to the poorest of the poor, the impact on saving lives and avoiding sickness is incredible.’

I mildly disappoint him when I ask whether foreign aid really does go to the most deserving. What about Robert Mugabe’s henchmen skimming off millions in Zimbabwe?

‘Well, no one gives aid to Zimbabwe through the Mugabe government,’ he says sharply.

‘Charities like the World Food Programme go in on a direct basis. When we buy vaccines we are super-smart about what we pay. We get price reductions. We can track how many kids get the vaccines. People don’t stockpile vaccines. It’s not like you’re going to go to Mugabe’s mansion and you’d find polio vaccines in the basement and he’s going’ — at this point, marvellously, he breaks into a Dr Evil impression — ‘“Ha, ha, ha! I took it ALL!”’

How about countries like India, which receives billions in aid yet has 70 billionaires and a space programme?

‘Countries which receive aid do graduate,’ he insists. ‘Within a generation Korea went from being a big recipient to being a big aid donor. China used to get quite a bit of aid; now it’s aid-neutral. India in the north still needs all the help we can give in terms of helping with childhood death rates, maternal deaths and polio.

‘It is important to me to get out into the field. I went to Uttar Pradesh (in northern India) recently. It was a long way from this…’

He waves his hand around the conference room.

‘It is important to see places. When you go into a ward with kids who have cholera, it’s horrific. They are losing their vital fluids and their brains are shutting down. As a father, as a human, it’s just horrific.

‘I met this girl, Hoshman, a polio victim. She’s three years old and can’t walk and never will. She’s just beginning to realise how different her life will be from the other kids’. I spoke to her mum and her older sister. Because of the work we’ve done she will be one of the last 50 kids in India to be paralysed from polio.’

He smiles when I tell him one of his foundation workers told me how he helped pull himself across a river in Uttar Pradesh, and that while everyone in the Western world has heard of Bill Gates, in the Third World he’s a nobody.

‘Oh, absolutely. They don’t know who I am, because it doesn’t relate to their world. I went to one place with the chief minister and someone said, “Who is this guy?”, and the chief minister said, “This is a white-skinned guy I brought with me.” If you’re a person struggling to eat and stay healthy you might have heard about Michael Jordan or Muhammad Ali, but you’ll never have heard of Bill Gates.’

His passion for aid is such that he devotes his spare time to reading about it: ‘At the moment I’m reading Getting Better by Charles Kenny, and I’m going to China soon, so I’m reading The Dragon’s Gift, about the history of Chinese aid to Africa.’

Gates is a voracious reader. His famously palatial home — a £100 million, 66,000 sq ft hi-tech wonderland overlooking nearby Lake Washington — has a library packed with books. Ironically, he prefers his books in old-fashioned physical form: ‘I read a lot of obscure books and it is nice to open a book. But the electronic devices are good as well. Digital reading will completely take over. It’s lightweight and it’s fantastic for sharing. Over time it will take over.’

His pride and joy is the Codex Leicester, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, which he bought in 1994 for $30.8 million.

‘I’m lucky that I own that notebook. I’ve always been amazed by Da Vinci, because he worked out science on his own. He would work by drawing things and writing down his ideas. Of course, he designed all sorts of flying machines way before you could actually build something like that.’

He says it would be one of the first things he’d rescue from his home in a fire, but adds, ‘I have documents by Isaac Newton and Abraham Lincoln. I have some pretty nice art too. It would be a shame to lose any of that.’

He’s still inquisitive about technology. Pointing to a large whiteboard behind my head in the conference room, he gives me a tip.

‘The next big thing is definitely speech and voice recognition. You’ll be able to touch that board or speak to it and get your message to colleagues around the world. Screens are cheap.’
He has his own Twitter account and Facebook page, although ‘I had a problem with Facebook, because the friend requests got out of hand’.

He is friends with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 27, who has already pledged to give most of his fortune away. Gates lets slip that Zuckerberg may be engaged to Priscilla Chan, his long-term girlfriend: ‘I didn’t say to Mark, “Give me all your money!” He was predisposed to do it and he came to me seeking advice.

‘His fiancée Priscilla thought about education and he gave money to Newark, New Jersey, and we did a co-grant so that some of our people who had some expertise in that field could help him out. He deserves credit. I started meaningful philanthropy in my forties. He’s starting way earlier.’

I ask about his ‘legacy’, and for the first time I understand how Microsoft employees felt when Gates interrupted meetings to declare, ‘That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard!’

‘Legacy is a stupid thing! I don’t want a legacy. If people look and see that childhood deaths dropped from nine million a year to four million because of our investment, then wow! I liken what I’m doing now to my old job. I worked with a lot of smart people; some things went well, some didn’t go so well. But when you see how what we did ended up empowering people, it’s a very cool thing.

‘I want a malaria vaccine. If we get one then we’ll have to find the money to give it to everyone, but the impact would be so huge we would find a way. Understanding science and pushing the boundaries of science is what makes me immensely satisfied. What I’m doing now involves understanding maths, risk-taking. The first half of my life was good preparation for the second half.’

Gates was always described as a geek, but that seems terribly unfair in the wider context of the passions that now drive him. As I stand to leave, he laughs the label off.

‘Hey, if being a geek means you’re willing to take a 400-page book on vaccines and where they work and where they don’t, and you go off and study that and you use that to challenge people to learn more, then absolutely. I’m a geek. I plead guilty. Gladly.’



  1. Hi! I don’t know if you are asking for a mailing address or an email address so I put the mailing address in the field and here is my email address, kris@infobear.com

    My husband and I both graduated from NC State University. Jim in the late 1980s and me in Dec. 1991. Jim’s major was computer science and he worked his way through college working a semester and then co-oping at IBM for a semester. We met in 1980 and I was kind of a major distraction to him. He failed a class because I kept him too busy to do homework, and graduated with a 2.9. But the reason he was offered a job at IBM is that he had developed great relationships with his managers and a reputation for his work ethic. So when he needed a job, one of his former managers, a farsighted man named Jerry Gafka hired him as a contract employee and then as a regular employee. Jerry knew Jim could bring a specific project home on time and Jim did so, with the the team members. Jim used to tease me about my college major saying I majored in play period, which translates to Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management! When I finally earned my BS degree I had a job waiting for me as the “Assistant to the Dean of Academic Affairs and Lecturer”. The job consisted of directing and providing enrollment management services to the College of Forest Resources, (my department PRTM) was in the college, since re-named the College of Natural Resources. The College has three departments, PRTM, Forestry, and Wood and Paper Science engineering, and my job was to bring bright students into CNR and keep them enrolled, recruitment and retention. My major in play period paid off in that my first boss was new to administration, the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, had come from VPI as a faculty member, not an administrator. The two of us did great things together. My boss Doug Wellman, Ph.D., and I did butt heads as to what the best approaches were in recruitment but together we developed a synergy that paid off for the college and for both of us. I was fortunate that Dr. Wellman gave me a great amount of latitude in making decisions as to how to structure the recruiting program and when he left to pursue a different administrative position at NC State, I worked with my second boss, Carol Love, Ph.D. one of my former professors when she was appointed to the position. Finally Dr. Love retired and I had the opportunity to work with Adrianna Kirkman, Ph.D. from the Pulp and Paper Science division of the Department of Wood and Paper Science. I got a 180 degree picture of managers (my own superiors on the job) and their individual personalities. Each Associate Dean I worked with brought his or her own view point and management style with her and finally when we adopted our child Grace from China, I left the university to become a stay at home mom, in early 2004.

    As Bill Gates has said he schedules his family time with purpose, his kids do not loose out on time with their dad and Mr. Gates doesn’t loose out on time with them.

    In 2010 I incorporated a company called Contextual Learning, L3C. We help facilitate students cross the bridge from concrete to abstract reasoning and believe me, for non abstract thinkers like me, this can be a big bridge. I failed hs chemistry, and algebra I. I got a C- in Algebra I in summer school, graduated at the bottom of my class gpa wise, and yet somehow got an 1150 SAT score, this in 1973.

    Both of the women in our company with me have doctorate degrees in Science Education and Forestry (Geographic Information Systems) Rita Hagevik, and Forestry, Joyce Hilliard-Clark. Joyce is the first African American woman in the US to have earned a doctorate degree in Forestry. Joyce and I became colleagues in 1992 and were friends by 1993. Rita and I met in 2000 when she was finishing her doctoral dissertation and I was finishing my MS in PRTM. I needed a person who understood GIS from a technical and a teaching perspective and Rita was that person. My final superior, Dr. Kirkman, agreed to give me a $3,000 grant to work with me to bring the projects we were doing together to completion. So Rita bought PCs for her daughters, who were both college students at the time and together we did our projects with children in the Raleigh, NC Boys and Girls Clubs and also in an NC State University Saturday Academy called SPACE, for under represented middle school students.

    You see, the key to recruiting students into forestry, natural resource studies, and more, we had to engage them in a hands-on context rich experience. Rita’s program that she developed when she was a middle school teacher, MOSS fit these students to a T! MOSS stands for mapping our school site and it can be done anywhere on an outdoor study site, typically a 10 x 10 meter study site. The students are responsible for gathering and interpreting data from the site, using the aggregate data from the entire group to prove or disprove their hypotheses. So the students all engaged in hands on collection of data from their study sites including soil consistencies, animals found in the pitfall traps on their particular coordinate on the study site grid and the type of vegetation on their site. The hypotheses were simple yet verifiable…”We will find more animals in areas with vegetative cover than areas with bare ground.”

    This work not only helped the students learn abstract subject matter such as, the Cartesian Coordinate system by playing the
    X,Y game outdoors, using their meter sticks at the beginning of the study site analysis one of us would say, Rita or Kris, please walk to 3, 8 and starting at our zero point we would lay our meter sticks on the ground on the x axis and locate the 3 point and then using the meter stick, go north 8 meters and stand there, sticking in a flag, the kind surveyors use marking the flag, 3,8. After only one or two demonstrations the kids would soon want to call out coordinates and one of the students would volunteer to walk to the coordinate on the site. Engaging kinetically oriented, spatial skills came into play and the Cartesian coordinate system took a giant leap from the 2 D system they were accustomed to facing on paper in a classroom to a living, moving 3 D system used in the real world, with the coordinate pairs found by the students using meter sticks and starting at the zero point identifying the exact coordinate pair on a real piece of the planet!

    Turning 2-D abstract reasoning processes into 3-D active, spatially oriented physically oriented movement, was a revelation to the students and to me, as if I had ever seen the Cartesian coordinate system used in real life in in the outdoors in 3-D instead of 2-D on paper and pencil grid form, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have failed Algegra I to begin with.

    Similarly, by Googling the words molecular geometry, I found Valence Electron Shell Repulsion Theory, known as VESPR, where using the location of the electrons in atoms, provide a way to accurately model the geometric structure of a molecule. When I excitedly brought my first VESPR site I bought to the pool last summer to show to her, she said, yeah, I had to buy four or five of those sets to get through organic chemistry. Rita, like me is a visual learner and she understands how and why and when students often loose there way in school when arithmetic turns into algebra and geometry when symbols and numbers are mixed together.

    Rita’s dad however was an engineer and he helped her see the connections. Jim my husband’s dad was also an engineer. Jim told me that when he brought a math problem to his dad he pretty much did so as only a last resort because his dad made sure that Jim could do not only the problem itself, but he would make up similar problems that called for the same mathematical understanding but in a different form. This was how Jim came to the point where he could understand not only the problems he was assigned but HOW the problem worked and what theoretical background pieces were the frame work of similar problems.

    Now a software developer at SAS Institute, Jim sees how problems are solved, in an iterative or intuitive manner as he’s now 54 years old and I’m 56. He’s been writing code for many years, and de-bugging code of his colleagues as well. So his mind sees pathways and errors, easily while I still have to find new ways to understand visually what to many people are “easy” or intuitive.

    So last year, I incorporated our company, Contextual Learning, L3C, after I talked with Rita and then Joyce, my dream team and got a solid Yes, I’ll work with you from both of these women.

    So my BS and MS in play period has paid off well. I am enjoying developing a start up company with two women who have spent their careers in teaching in novel, intuitive and hands-on methods, writing successful grant proposals to NSF, and being published in professional journals, writing book chapters, etc.

    It turns out that I have ADD but I never knew this until I was 54 years old. I saw a book by Dr. Gabor Mate titled Scattered. I doubt that I would have picked the book up unless the day before another professional had said to me, “Kris, you sure seem scattered to me.”

    I have since read each of Gabor Mate’s four books and emailed him to ask him for a consultation on our newly developing company. He asked what kind of help I needed from him as I had provided a comprehensive business plan including ideology and methodology in my email to him. I said that as the company’s President I would have to make presentations and get a lot of information across in a quick yet effective manner. And I then said that I have ADD. He laughed gently and said, “I knew that after I heard you speak just a few sentences” As we talked it came out easily that what I needed his help with wasn’t the organizational structure or content of the process of our teaching, learning processes, but it was more my need to learn to speak in a way that conveyed confidence, and would be easy for people to listen to. As it is, when I start to talk about our company, I feel so pressed by my what I feel as a lack of time to communicate all of the essential points of who we are and how we work with learners, that I become rushed, and my voice gets high in pitch, and I convey to an audience a sense of being scattered rather than as a competent leader of an organization.
    So what Dr. Mate is going to help me with is how to speak without conveying my sense of internal urgency, and in a way that allows the listener to relax and enjoy my presentation.

    As I jumped into my reply to the interview with Bill Gates on the NHNE Pulse website, I see that I did not explain how the interview shared with inspired me.

    Much has to do with a feeling of intuitive understanding of Bill Gates. Feeling certain that he is a divergent thinker and is a person who has the ability to hyper focus on a concept when it is one that completely engrosses him. think this quality of focus, divergent thinking, creativity, and a self assurance that does not allow those who say, “your idea is impossible, it will never work” to dissuade him. In fact if Mr. Gates and I have anything in common it is that discouragement has the ability to encourage us. Say to me, ‘YOU can’t do that.’ is like waving hypothetical red flag in front of an angry bull. That phrase spurs me and likely Mr. Gates to excel and to DO what ‘they’ have said cannot be done.

    What Mr. Gates does that inspires so many people is that he is a guy who while seeing the ordinary, takes his own unique way of seeing the world, by synthesizing what is and then creating what CAN be, even if the thing that CAN be exists in his mind alone when he first thinks of it. The following quote, written in only a few words summarizes the greatness Gates’ innovation.

    “Bill Gates and Microsoft democratized access to computers and information.”* citation at end of reply.

    It is likely that I would not be sitting here at home with my laptop writting this letter if Bill Gates had not envisioned the personal computer, putting the vast world of online information into the hands of students of all ages, of people interested in developing new companies, new ways of developing inexpensive (my so far un-patent-able) processes/mechanisms to protect citizens and military personnel from unseen chemical and biological toxins is now possible. There are many ways to accomplish a huge variety of products and processes
    including our newly formed company Contextual Learning,L3C, to inventions to protect citizenry. Referring to my invention that isn’t patent-able at this moment to alert individuals of toxins dispersed by terrorists. The internet accessible by a laptop and wireless connection takes you to wells of seemingly untapped information that can be used by people who are interested in creating a safe and educated world, can plumb to their heart’s desire.

    Mr. Gates with the innovation of the personal computer has democratized the world to an extent unimaginable to the authors of “Brave New World” and “Nineteen Eighty Four”!

    As information becomes accessible to a wider and wider swath of humanity we will reap the benefits of his thinking in the centuries to come.

    Thank you Bill Gates for never giving up and for taking, all of the “You can’t do that.” he must have heard and instead of believing them instead choose to believe in himself and in his own ability. For this our world owes you BIG TIME!
    Kris Fowler

    citation – “To Do Things Differently We Must See Things Differently”
    found on the Leadership Resource Center: Resource Primer.

  2. Actually, Radio Shack and Apple got the personal computer going. Bill made his money from the operating system that he bought from the creator. Like many billionaires he bought it and resold it. That he had the ability to see what was coming is great. I don’t know the who story, but let us not go overboard here and give Bill credit for everything. He mostly was in the right place at the right time.

    Now he intends to vaccinate the children of Africa which will do much more damage than it will good. One of my Ministers in Mexico is now treating 2000 autistic children, all of whom began having the autistic symptoms right after being vaccinated. She is also treating ADD and ADHD all of whom started having the symptoms right after being vaccinated.

    No fancy scientific language, books, clinical trials, reports, just plain truth reported. I have cured thousands of malaria victims, all being symptom free in 4 hours and I have 5 letters from Bill Gates foundation refusing help.

    We don’t have a billion dollars, but we have 220 ministers in 58 countries treating every disease known free of charge. We don’t have the hundred million to do the testing, but we have the success stories of thousands with hundreds of thousands of lives saved with no help from the billionaires, but plenty of rejection slips.

    If you are reading this, don’t expect your friends to read it as it will be remove post haste. If you want to know who I am look at the web site given above.
    with love.

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