Bill Gates, the man who founded Microsoft in 1975 and turned it into the world’s biggest technology company, making himself a billionaire several times over in the process, is stepping down from his day-to-day role to concentrate on his charity work. Although he’s not letting go of his baby completely – he’ll stay on as Microsoft chairman, and will continue to work one day a week on special technology projects (whatever that means).
However, his main focus will now be the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the charitable body he and his wife established in 2000 ‘to reduce inequities in the United States and around the world’. Based on the Rockefeller family’s methods, this body is intended to funnel most of his enormous wealth – estimated at about $50-odd billion, last time we looked – into helping some of the world’s most disadvantaged people: tackling AIDS and malaria in developing countries; providing educational scholarships for ethnic minorities and so on.
And if the Gates pile wasn’t big enough, Bill also persuaded fellow zillionaire Warren Buffet to sign over a huge proportion of his wealth to the Foundation, giving it even more firepower. Buffett and Gates (who seem to have sparked a new wave of philanthropy in the US) have apparently agreed that the Foundation will give away all its money and close down within 50 years of the founders’ deaths. With a spending requirement like that, it’s no wonder Bill needs to give up the day job.
He is standing down at a slightly awkward time for Microsoft, however. Ever since Windows established its dominant position, Microsoft has come under fire for its alleged anti-competitive behaviour – and judging by the results of some recent anti-trust cases, the courts are starting to agree. But the bigger long-term problem may be its internet strategy. Microsoft’s recent failure to tie up with Yahoo recently leaves it no closer to catching up with Google, which continues to race ahead in search and online services. CEO Steve Ballmer has a tough job on his hands to keep pace.
Gates, on the other hand, has new challenges to worry about. Though hopefully not those from his excellent spoof leaving video, which sees him touting his availability to various celebrity friends. He asks Bono for a job after a Guitar Hero rendition, sends a showreel to Stephen Spielberg, and offers himself as a running mate to Barack and Hilary, while working out with Matthew McConaughey (‘That’s good, one in a row…’) and rapping for Jay-Z (‘Big pimpin’, I’m Bill G; big pimpin’ yeah, you know me…’). Much to our surprise, it was actually rather good. Then again, you’d hope he’d be able to pay some decent writers – or it wouldn’t bode very well for his charity work...