What do you do with your money when you're one of the world's wealthiest individuals? Bill Gates has amassed a net worth upwards of $91 billion as of 2018. Gates earned the majority of his vast fortune as one of the founders of Microsoft Corporation (MSFT), where he served as CEO, chairman, and chief software architect. Gates was the largest individual shareholder of Microsoft as well, until May, 2014 when he stepped down from the chairmanship.
Here is where this billionaire stashes some of his money.
Investments in Corporations
While Gates can credit Microsoft for the bulk of his current wealth, his shares in the company in MSFT make up just around 20% of his holdings today. The majority of Gates' financial assets are investments in corporations managed by Cascade Investments, LLC, an entity now partially run by Gates to purchase stakes in various businesses. Although Cascade is highly secretive, some information can be gleaned from its financial disclosure statements. (For more, see "Management Advice From Megalomaniacs, Villains and Innovators.")
The portfolio held for Gates by Cascade is certainly well-diversified, with investments ranging from over $2 billion of Republic Services (RSG), a waste management company, to over $680 million in the national car dealership franchise AutoNation (AN). Nearly another $2 billion is stashed away in Ecolab (ECL), which produces cleaning supplies. In addition, it is reported that Cascade owns nearly a 50% stake in Four Seasons Hotels, over 10% of Canadian National Railway (CNI), around 7% of Arcos Dorados (ARCO), the largest McDonald's franchisee in the world, and a large chunk of the tractor maker John Deere (DE) – among others.
Gates recently founded BGc3 (Bill Gates Catalyst 3), a think tank and venture capital firm dedicated to scientific and technological services, industrial research and computer technology to combat poverty. He is also directly involved in Corbis, a digital image licensing and rights company, TerraPower, a nuclear reactor company, and Research Gate, a social networking sight for researchers and scientists.
Where Does Bill Gates Keep His Money?
His investment portfolio is certainly significant, but Bill Gates also puts his money to use buying real assets, including a sprawling estate and a private island.
Gates' Seattle-area home, Xanadu 2.0, is an ocean-side lodge boasting over 66,000 square feet with approximately 500 feet of private waterfront on Lake Washington. The estate features top-of-the-line technology and gadgets befitting its six kitchens, 24 bathrooms and six fireplaces. Nearly every amenity is computer controlled including automatic lights and music that follow you from room to room. In 2009, property taxes were reported to be $1.063 million on a total assessed value of $147.5 million – indicating that the market value today could be much larger than that amount.
In 2013, Gates purchased a mansion in Wellington, Florida, for $ 8.7 million. Supplemented by purchases of adjoining parcels in 2016, the house has extensive equestrian facilities, such as a show-jumping area and a 20-stall horse barn (his daughter Jennifer is a professional equestrian).
Gates is also rumored to own Grand Bogue Caye, a 314-acre island off the coast of Belize in Central America – the largest island in that country. Grand Bogue Caye is home to pristine beaches, abundant marine life and excellent diving. It is reported that Gates purchased the island for upwards of $25 million. (For more, see "Exploring Real Estate Investments.")
Planes & Automobiles
Bill Gates owns a private plane – a Bombardier BD 700 Global Express. This ultra-long range corporate jet can reach mach 0.88 and likely cost around $45 million. Through his membership in NetJets, Gates also owns a share of a Boeing Business Jet or BBJ. Gates uses his private jets routinely, chiefly for his work for his namesake charity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
He also likes a fancy set of wheels, and owns a number of Porsche automobiles. He is reported to have a 1999 Porsche 911 Carerra convertible, a 930 Turbo which he bought with his early Microsoft money, and a rare 1988 959 Coupe (only 337 were ever made). He likes to drive himself around town in a “normal” Mercedes, and he also owns a minivan to cruise around with the family.
While it's certainly an achievement to own one-of-a-kind real estate and rare cars, it is another to own precious, irreplaceable collectibles – and Bill Gates certainly has accumulated quite the collection.
In 1994, he purchased a celebrated Leonardo da Vinci manuscript at auction for $30.8 million. Known as the Codex Leicester, this work documents many of da Vinci's scientific discoveries and observations. Gates once remarked in a speech at the British Library on his purchase, “Yeah, I feel very lucky that I own a notebook. In fact, I remember going home one night and telling my wife Melinda that I was going to buy a notebook; she didn't think that was a very big deal. I said, no, this is a pretty special notebook; this is the Codex Leicester, one of the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci.”
In 1998, Gates acquired the painting "Lost on The Grand Banks" by Winslow Homer for a record $36 million. He followed that up in 1999, purchasing George Bellow's "Polo Crowd" at auction for $28 million. Among his vast art collection, he has also picked up Frederick Childe Hassam's work "Room of Flowers" for $20 million, William Merritt Chase's "The Nursery" for $10 million and Andrew Wyeth's "Distant Thunder" for $7 million. (For more, see "Should You Insure Your Collectibles?")
Funding worthy causes is atop Bill Gates' list of achievements. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is currently the largest charitable foundation in the world. The foundation's 2016 annual report reported net assets of over $41 billion – over $2 billion of which was originally donated by Bill Gates himself – and direct grants totaling over $4.5 million for that year.
He has also encouraged fellow billionaires to donate large sums to charitable causes through The Giving Pledge.
The Bottom Line
For Bill Gates, savvy investing in a diversified portfolio of financial assets, real estate and collectibles helps to ensure that his wealth will continue to grow. But beyond that, his philanthropic mission to donate much of his wealth to causes to help better the world may be his biggest investment and certainly a lasting legacy.