During an interview with Bloomberg’s David Rubenstein, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts admitted that both the tech gurus had roles to play in the telecommunication conglomerate’s game-changing decisions to invest in fiber optic technology and put Wi-Fi in cable boxes.
Roberts reserved particular praise for Gates. Without the timely guidance and financial assistance of Microsoft’s co-founder, he acknowledged that his company might not have survived the broadband revolution that eventually pushed some of its cable TV peers into obscurity.
In the late 90s, Gates told Roberts that someday Comcast’s data business would be bigger than its cable business, at which point Roberts asked the tech mogul if he would consider investing in the industry. Comcast was looking to make an expensive bet on fiber optic technology, something that Wall Street was critical of at the time. (See also: Comcast Q1 Earnings and Revenues Surpass Estimates.)
"He put a billion dollars from Microsoft into Comcast. Non-voting stock, no board seat, no Microsoft products," said Roberts. Microsoft's press release announcing the pivotal investment is still on its website. According to the statement, Gates was to work closely with Roberts on the strategic and technological direction of Comcast.
That investment, which came at a time when Comcast’s shares were in the doldrums, eventually paid off, ensuring that Comcast remained relevant in the 21st century. It also netted Gates a 400 percent return. (See also: This is What Bill Gates's Portfolio Looks Like.)
Later in the interview, Roberts went on to discuss how Apple’s former CEO, Steve Jobs, played a similarly important role in revolutionizing Comcast’s business.
“The other 'aha moment' for me was another great leader Steve Jobs, who we were visiting trying to see if we could collaborate with Apple a decade ago. He said: 'Why don’t you put Wi-Fi in all your cable boxes?' And now we have more Wi-Fi than any company in America and we have the fastest Wi-Fi.”