Bill Gates epitomizes the late 20th century legend of the entrepreneur who starts a small business out of a tiny space and grows it into one of the most powerful companies in the world, changing millions of lives and amassing a vast fortune in the process. He created Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), which he launched in 1975 from the poker room at his Harvard dorm. As of 2015, Microsoft ranks in thirty-first place on the Fortune 500 list.
Early Life and Education
Born in Seattle to an attorney father and banker mother, Gates was a computer whiz from an early age. During this era, few kids even knew how to turn on a computer. He learned to program at 13 on a Teletype Model 33 purchased by his school. His first creation was a tic-tac-toe game that pitted the user against the computer. Impressed by what they saw, his teachers began excusing him from class to give him more time to hone his programming skills in the computer lab.
At Harvard, Gates continued to spend most of his time in the lab, eventually, with his parents' blessing, dropping out of college to focus full-time on developing a new operating system.
Empowered from an early age by his parents and teachers to believe in his abilities and use them to change the world, Gates pioneered his own path in life and in business.
Beginning as a small company headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Microsoft leaped onto the tech industry's radar in 1980 when IBM hired the nascent business to upgrade its personal computer. The partnership became a springboard for Gates, who, in 1985, used his relationship with IBM to retrofit its computers with two operating systems he had created: Microsoft Windows and OS/2.
Gates' IBM-based operating system battled with Steve Jobs' Apple for supremacy in the home PC market during most of the 1980s. The following decade, while Apple struggled in the absence of Jobs, who left the company in 1985, Microsoft developed the revolutionary Windows 95 operating system. This highly user-friendly upgrade from previous Windows versions would swing the pendulum sharply in favor of Microsoft. Apple, by contrast, continued to struggle until the early 21st century when, buoyed by the return of Jobs, the company created its iMac line, which made it a viable competitor once again.
Gates was known as an ingenious innovator and as a shrewd manager who brooked no nonsense and little dissent. He shot down subordinates' ideas he found not to be worthwhile, often with a dismissive tone that humiliated the person with the idea. Though remaining in Gates' good graces meant staying on their toes, most employees applauded his management style as maximizing efficiency, minimizing red tape and always keeping the company moving forward.
Net Worth & Current Influence
As of 2015, Bill Gates tops the Forbes rich list, with a net worth of $79.7 billion. This puts him ahead of investor Warren Buffett ($72.2 billion) and Mexican businessman Carlos Slim ($72.9 billion).
Gates would have a significantly higher net worth if he didn't give so much money away. Now that he is retired from day-to-day operations at Microsoft, he spends most of his time heading the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a charity the couple founded to reduce global poverty and expand access to health care and information technology. Bill and Melinda Gates have given over $30 billion to charity, while over 95% of their vast estate is earmarked for eventual donation to charitable causes.
Most Influential Quotes
"At Microsoft there are lots of brilliant ideas but the image is that they all come from the top – I'm afraid that's not quite right." While Gates was known for his domineering nature and his aversion to being challenged, this quote reveals he was not afraid to defer to subordinates when they had truly great ideas.
"Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose." Though he is one of the most successful businessmen of all time, Gates suggests here that his failures are what have taught him the most.