OUTSIDE THE BOX BY ALEX OTTI
“Now I understand why he called it Microsoft”- An African American Lady
Someone told me this interesting story a few years back which I cannot confirm its veracity. It was several decades ago that Bill Gates met this young beautiful African American and immediately fell in love with her. They speak for few moments and Bill invited her to a date. The young woman was excited to meet Bill and was particularly enamored by his intelligence. She would want the date to happen yesterday. To her shock, Bill proposed that the date held in a week’s time. Well, what could she do? She agreed and on the set date, she had a very good time with Bill. Fast forward to the day that the lady was visiting Bill Gate’s house for the first time. She was happy with the level of organisation and after meals, they retired to the bedroom. Not too long after, the lady stormed out of the bedroom looking very disappointed. She was speaking to no one in particular, but was heard saying, “now, I understand why he named it Microsoft”. That was obviously years before Bill met Melinda.
The Bill and Melinda Gates divorce saga is the dream of comedians and satirists. In the world of divorce, nothing can top this unless maybe when it involves the Royal House of Windsor. They haven’t disappointed as they have walked all over the matter lampooning poor Bill and Melinda from all angles. It is the price of fame and fortune and I believe that they knew from day one that it goes with the territory.
William Henry Gates III was born on October 28, 1955 in Seattle, Washington. As a child, he started showing signs of a genius such that he wrote his first software program at the age of 13, when he was in Preparatory School. He was so brilliant that he provided technology solutions for his school even at that tender age. He became a National Merit Scholar and graduated from high school in 1973. He emerged with almost a perfect score in Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) garnering 1590 out of the possible 1600 marks and was expectedly admitted into Harvard University same year. Two years later, Gates voluntarily dropped out from Harvard to pursue his dream of setting up a technology business. While at Harvard, he met and became friends with another equally brilliant student, Steve Ballmer. As Bill left Harvard, Steve continued and graduated Magna Cum Laude (Second Class Honours, Upper Division). As fate would have it, Steve was to join Microsoft years later and actually succeeded Bill Gates as CEO in the year 2000.
Bill Gates founded Microsoft with his school friend, Paul Allen in 1975 in New Mexico, United States. He is reputed to be one of the major brains behind the microcomputer revolution of the century. He led Microsoft to become the largest software company in the world and stepped down as CEO in 2000, even though he remained as Chairman until 2014. He, however, chose to support the company by assuming the role of technology adviser to the company and completely retired from Microsoft in March 2020 to pursue his new interest in philanthropy on the platform of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Amongst his several other inventions, one of his most successful was the Windows. It was first released in 1985 as a graphic user interface software solution. He subsequently released the earth-shaking Windows 95, a decade later making Microsoft the undisputed leader in the field of personal computing. Many other versions and improvements were made to Windows over time, the latest being Windows 10, released in 2020. With his success in business came a lot of wealth and fame. For years now, he has been listed as one of the wealthiest people in the world. His net worth is put at over $145b. Besides Microsoft, he was a major investor in Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway where he sat on the board until 2014, amongst a lot of other investments. His leadership style is said to be combative, and he is also said to have a caustic tongue, particularly with non-performers.
Melinda Ann Gates, nee French, was born on August 15, 1964 in Dallas Texas. Like Bill, she was a very brilliant student. At age 14, she had already been introduced to computing by her father. She was on top of her class at St. Monica Catholic School and was best graduating student and Valedictorian in her high school at Ursuline Academy, Dallas in 1982. She proceeded to Duke University from where she graduated with Honours in Computer Science and Economics in 1986. A year later, she received an MBA from the same University. She took a job as a mathematics and computer engineering teacher from where she joined Microsoft as a Marketing Manager in 1987. That same year, she started dating her CEO, Bill Gates after meeting at a fair in New York. They got married in 1994 and two years later, she left Microsoft to focus on family. As if to give credence to the story of the African American lady cited above, after the overtures by Bill, he had proposed a dinner date two weeks in advance. The shocked Melinda declined the offer and requested that he asked her closer to the time! This pointed to how full Bill Gates’ diary had always been. Their marriage is blessed with three children, Jennifer, 25; Rory, 21; and Phoebe, 18.
In the year 2000, they set up what is known today as the largest charity outfit in the world, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Foundation has spent over $50b in philanthropic work and has assets valued at about $35b. It must be noted that while it is said that the charity side of the Gates is Melinda’s passion while the ‘techy’ side is Bill’s passion, Bill had another Foundation that was set up in 1994 which was rolled into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Foundation’s goal initially was to provide laptops to every classroom and support education around the world. Subsequently, other areas like climate change, global health and development, became major areas of focus for the Foundation. The Foundation has made a strong impact in the eradication of communicable diseases around the world and supported access to vaccines to the poor in Africa and elsewhere. One of its major goals is to provide 120m women and girls, particularly in poor nations with contraceptive services. Bill Gates believes strongly in population control and this has attracted criticisms from pundits who have associated him with all sorts of conspiracy theories, particularly with the outbreak of Covid-19. In 2010, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet set up “The Giving Pledge” where they and other billionaires pledge to give out no less than 50% of their wealth to charity. At the last count, more than 170 billionaires around the world have signed up to the pledge.
On Monday, May 3, 2021, the world woke up to a shocking divorce announcement from this otherwise wonderful couple. I have, in the past, heard people reference Bill and Melinda Gates as the ideal couple and role model. In the announcement, they claimed that they no longer believed they could grow together as a couple in the next phase of their lives. “After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage. Over the last 27years, we have raised three incredible children and built a Foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives”. What could have gone wrong with this marriage after such a long time with three grown up children? Many theories are being propounded as their joint statement left a lot of gaps.
Ordinarily, divorces and break up of marriages are a daily occurrence in the Western world and should not generate the kind of interest that the Gates are generating. However, because of their position and what they represent, the dust raised by this separation and eventual divorce would not settle very soon. Some other divorces that had attracted this kind of interest included those of Prince Charles of England decades ago, and of Jeff Bezos and Mackenzie Scott who packed up their marriage after 25 years and four children. This divorce ended up with a 4% stake in Amazon, amounting to over $38b as divorce settlement. Mackenzie in return said she was giving up 50% of the wealth through ‘The Giving Pledge’ to charity.
As the French would say, ‘Cherchez la femme’ – Always look for the woman! Somehow, there is always the story of another woman in the picture. In the case of Jeff Bezos, a certain Lauren Sanchez was alleged to be having an affair with the billionaire which contributed to the crash of the marriage. Then enter the Tesla wizard Elon Musk, who has been divorced 3 times, twice from Justin who had 5 children for him. The other one Riley received a tidy $20m settlement from Musk. Another shocking divorce was that of the 45th Vice President of the Unites States, the urbane Al Gore and his wife Tipper who separated after 40 years of marriage with 4 children.
Sequel to the Bill and Melinda Gates divorce announcement, nothing prepared the world for this separation. They seemed to have deceived everyone in their public pronouncements, expressing deep love for each other and demonstrating how they complemented each other. In Bill’s own words, “some people see Melinda as the heart of our Foundation, the emotional core, but as she knows, I’m more emotional than people realise, I know she’s more analytical than people realise. When I get really enthusiastic about something, I count on her to make sure I’m being realistic. She helps me understand when I can push our teams harder and when I need to ease off. On her own part, Melinda had these to say “Bill is very open-minded which isn’t necessarily how people perceive him. I love Bill because he has a kind heart, listens to other people, and lets himself be moved by what they say. When I tell a story about what I have seen, he feels it. He might ask me to gather some data for good measure, but he doesn’t doubt the reality of my experiences or the soundness of my judgement.” These statements were made barely three years ago. Just last year, Bill posted a message on his Instagram to the effect that he couldn’t ask for a better partner on this journey of life and on their 26th wedding anniversary, Melinda had posted “I’m still marveling at just how full a heart can get. Happy anniversary to the man who keeps me dancing through life.”
One theory is that the lockdown following the pandemic, which had most people holed up in their homes could have been responsible for this breakup. The veracity of this claim is not farfetched as a lot of marriages were reported to have hit the rocks owing to the long stay of couples together as against what it was in the past. Couples who hardly had time to stay at home suddenly had time in their hands and things that were hitherto ignored or were not observable assumed prominence. This is even truer for someone like Bill who had worked round the clock for several decades and only took a retirement just around the outbreak of the pandemic. Some theorists had naturally blamed the strange woman, in this case, Ann Winblad. The story had surfaced in the media that Bill got Melinda’s consent to spend long weekends every year with his ex-girlfriend Ms. Winblad, 70, before they got married. This arrangement as much as it sounds interesting doesn’t look like a plausible reason for the breakup as it had been in place for 27years without any issues. The question is, why should it be an issue now?
Some people have argued that the foundation of the relationship was faulty in the first place. The argument is that Melinda came to work at Microsoft and that it was fundamentally flawed for the CEO to begin to chase around his staff or for the staff to begin to chase around her CEO. While this argument is in the realm of morality, Melinda’s mum was one of those who stood against the relationship in the early stages and advised her daughter to avoid the office romance. They still went ahead, and the rest is now history. May be there is something to learn here.
Many analysts have pointed at money as being central to this divorce. I believe that why this divorce made the kind of headline it did, is the issue of wealth and of course, its impact on those who have come to see the couple as a role model. Divorce lawyers are always waiting in the wings to sign on high profile cases like this. There are already reports that shortly after the announcement Melinda earned some $2billion dollars from the transfer of some stocks to her. Again, because there were no pre-nuptial agreements in place, Melinda was going to get a hefty sum in divorce settlements. May be the lady was bidding her time being a good mathematician, calculating the best time to strike, that being when the children had grown up, when the wealth had gotten to its peak and when her ‘second hand’ value had peaked!
Whatever be the real reason behind this exit from the mansion of marriage, it has left a very bitter taste in the mouth and it is an example of how not to be a role model. Thousands of people who had been hitherto inspired by this couple are shocked. The very impressive work they had been doing at the Foundation would suffer. It is a lesson that money is not all that matters in a relationship. If it were so, Prince Charles, Al Gore, Elon Musk, and certainly Bill Gates would have had different stories to tell.
Having said all these, we will still manage to wish Bill and Melinda luck in the new choices they have made.