Bill Gates, the multibillionaire cofounder of Microsoft, was viewed and mostly respected by the public as a nerdy, brainy and awkward guy. In the tech community, it was different. Gates was feared. Rivals saw him as brutal and ruthless.
The U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division accused Microsoft of running a monopoly and filed suit—United States v. Microsoft. Competitors were knocked out of business. His childhood best friend and cofounder, Paul Allen, claimed Gates “conspired with Microsoft’s first chief executive, Steve Ballmer, to reduce his co-founder’s stake,” while he was “recovering from treatment for lymphoma.”
Extolling Gates’ cultivated persona of a well-meaning billionaire, Times Magazine wrote in March 2020, “Late on Friday, cofounder and original chief executive officer Bill Gates, the man most closely identified with the world’s largest software maker, said he will leave the company’s board to devote more time to his charitable foundation, which is is playing a key role in global health initiatives and expanding into new areas like climate change.” The takeaway from this type of fawning reporting belied the real man.
The real story, according to the Wall Street Journal, was far different than initially reported. “Microsoft Corp. board members decided that Bill Gates needed to step down from its board in 2020 as they pursued an investigation into the billionaire’s prior romantic relationship with a female Microsoft employee that was deemed inappropriate.”
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An investigation initiated by Microsoft’s board of directors determined that Gates had to go. After decades helming the software company, Gates resigned before the board finished its probe.
A spokesperson for Gates told the Wall Street Journal, “There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably. Bill’s decision to transition off the board was in no way related to this matter. In fact, he had expressed an interest in spending more time on his philanthropy starting several years earlier.”
The Wall Street Journal’s illuminating investigative piece coincided with an article in The New York Times alleging Gates made overtures to women at both Microsoft and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The New York Times cited two instances where “the tech mogul clumsily asked out women who worked for him at Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”
According to the Daily Beast, “sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein gave Bill Gates advice on ending his marriage with Melinda after the Microsoft cofounder complained about her during a series of meetings at the money manager’s mansion, according to two people familiar with the situation.”
“The Daily Beast exclusively reported, Melinda Gates was furious over Bill’s relationship with Epstein, and was put off by the creepy financier upon meeting him in September 2013.” It was also reported that she was “upset over how Bill handled a previously undisclosed sexual harassment claim against his longtime money manager, Michael Larson, in 2018.”
Gates met and courted Melinda French Gates while she was a Microsoft employee. She started dating Gates in 1987, the couple married in 1994 and have three children. The couple recently announced their divorce after 27 years of marriage.
In a statement to the New York Times, a spokesperson for Gates said, “It is extremely disappointing that there have been so many untruths published about the cause, the circumstances and the timeline of Bill Gates’ divorce.”
According to the spokesperson, the “claim of mistreatment of employees is also false” and “the rumors and speculation surrounding Gates’ divorce are becoming increasingly absurd and it’s unfortunate that people who have little to no knowledge of the situation are being characterized as ‘sources.'”
Gates became a fixture on the news, weighing in on Covid-19, vaccines and a wide array of other global matters. His past take-no-prisoners approach to business at Microsoft was forgotten. He transformed into a new persona of a caring, well-meaning philanthropist.
In fairness, Gates has accomplished great work through his foundation and efforts. He may have saved and improved millions of lives around the world through his philanthropic endeavors.
It appears, in hindsight, that this may have been some sort of attempt for redemption, atoning for past actions. Sadly, moving forward, in light of these allegations, Gates’ reputation and practices are now open to further questions and scrutiny.