Did Bill Gates acquire most of his wealth by fair means or foul? Last issue’s column examined the 1980s and early 1990s and largely saw fair actions. A few fell on the border. Today I ask about the mid-1990s and beyond.
What a period this was for Gates. The diffusion of the Internet required a redirection of numerous Microsoft activities. Gates had the skills to lead such an organizational renewal, and he did. Those actions were impressive.
In June of 2008, William Gates Jr. will step down as chief software architect at Microsoft and move more of his time to the foundation named for him and his wife. It is a quasi retirement from Microsoft, not a full retirement. Gates intends to come back now and again to help. His June 2006 announcement made headlines, even though most of us—except those who happen to work there—have only a passing interest in the internal machinations of Microsoft. It gained attention because of who said it.
Bill Gates’ life has a unique arc. Gates founded and then managed a company that provides software for personal computers, and, in the process, became unbelievably wealthy, to the tune of $50 billion at last count. Many others got wealthy along with him, Steve Ballmer and Paul Allen, most notably, but Gates’ wealth tops them all, making him comparable to only a small number of other business figures in history—‘‘robber barons’’ in popular speak—such as Carnegie, Rockefeller, Bell, and Ford.