By CAROLINE GRAHAM in SEATTLE
Created: 14:58 EST, 9 June 2011>
Rocking gently in his chair, he begins to sing: 'I wanna be a billionaire so freakin' bad. Buy all the things I never had. I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine. Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen...'
'It will be a minuscule portion of my wealth. It will mean they (his children) have to find their own way. They will be given an unbelievable education... But they will have to pick a job they like and go to work,' said Bill Gates
Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars’s hit Billionaire reached No 3 on both sides of the Atlantic last year. The irony of the lyrics isn’t lost on either of us. They are, Gates chuckles, regularly used by his three children to poke fun at him.
At 55, he has graced the cover of Forbes magazine many times. As the co-founder, with Paul Allen, of Microsoft, he grew a 1975 back-room start-up into a software behemoth worth, at its peak, $400 billion. Oprah Winfrey is a close friend; the pair meet regularly and she has discussed signing his ‘Giving Pledge’ to donate the bulk of her $2.7 billion estate to charity.
And the Queen? Well, she gave him an honorary knighthood back in 2005.
‘The Billionaire song is what my kids tease me with,’ he says. ‘They sing it to me. It’s funny.’
They have apparently also introduced him to the ‘joys’ of Lady Gaga, ‘but the 12-year-old is always worried about the nine-year-old listening to songs with bad words. So he’s like, “No! Skip that one!” So I only know some Lady Gaga songs.’
It’s probably just as well his children have a well-developed sense of humour. Gates is officially the second richest man in the world, only losing the No 1 spot to Mexican businessman Carlos Slim last year, after holding it for nearly two decades, on a technicality; he has given away $28 billion to charity, so is now personally worth ‘only’ $56 billion.
But Jennifer, 15, Rory, 12, and Phoebe, nine, aren’t going to inherit anything like that much.
‘I don’t think that amount of money would be good for them.’
To say that Gates is socially awkward is putting it mildly. This is a man who built a multi-billion-dollar company yet seems totally unaware of the social niceties of life (pictured above: Caroline Graham with Bill)
He won’t specify what they will get, but the reports that they’ll receive ‘only’ $10 million each can’t be far off, because he concedes, ‘It will be a minuscule portion of my wealth. It will mean they have to find their own way.
'They will be given an unbelievable education and that will all be paid for. And certainly anything related to health issues we will take care of. But in terms of their income, they will have to pick a job they like and go to work. They are normal kids now. They do chores, they get pocket money.’
He is determined that his family life should be as unaffected as possible by his fortune, and that he should be a hands-on father.
‘I never took a day off in my twenties. Not one. And I’m still fanatical, but now I’m a little less fanatical. I play tennis, I play bridge, I spend time with my family. I drive myself around town in a normal Mercedes. I’ve had a Lexus. The family has a Porsche, which is a nice car that we sometimes take out. We have a minivan and that’s what we use when it’s the five of us. My eldest daughter rides horses, so we go to a lot of three-day shows. The kids are a big part of my schedule.’
'I never took a day off in my twenties. Not one. And I'm still fanatical, but now I'm a little less fanatical'
Has he succumbed to the inevitable pleas from the children for an iPad, iPhone and iPod? His face hardens: ‘They have the Windows equivalent. They have a Zune music player, which is a great Windows portable player. They are not deprived children.’
He mentions a U2 concert he attended the previous night in Seattle, which has been the talk of the town. He has been friends with Bono for years; along with his wife, he shared the cover of Time magazine with him in 2005, when the trio, dubbed ‘The Good Samaritans’ for their philanthropy, were named ‘Persons of the Year’.
‘We went to the concert with my daughter and three of her friends, so there were six of us and we took the minivan. I drove.’
Did Bono invite them backstage? A long pause, then: ‘Umm, no – actually, he stayed at our house.’ Of course.
There’s something surreal about hearing Gates talk on such a personal level. Meeting him is comparable to meeting a head of state. We’re in a conference room in the sparkling new home of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, a $500 million glass-walled, eco-friendly office space which Gates jokes is ‘mostly the brainchild of my wife – I just signed all the cheques’.
To say that Gates is socially awkward is putting it mildly. This is a man who built a multi-billion-dollar company yet seems totally unaware of the social niceties of life. His voice is loud and oddly high-pitched. He’s in constant motion as he speaks, rocking in his chair with his arms folded protectively in front of him, tapping his toes, fiddling with a pen. He fails to look me in the eye and doesn’t engage in small talk.
I ask him whether this is it now – is Microsoft history to him, replaced in his heart by his philanthropy? He retired from the day-to-day running of Microsoft in 2008, with many believing it has since lost its edge to companies like Apple and Google.
He says, ‘My full-time work for the rest of my life is this foundation.’
A police mugshot of Gates after his arrest for driving without a licence in 1975
Will he ever return to helm Microsoft?
‘No. I’m part-time involved. But this is my job now.’
His foundation has assets worth $37.1 billion, thanks in part to contributions of shares from his mentor, American ‘uber-investor’ Warren Buffett. But forget the figures. The only thing Gates wants you to know is that he intends to give it all away.
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Famously publicity-shy, he has granted this rare one-on-one interview to Live not – unsurprisingly – to talk about what non-Apple gadgets his children have, but to promote a ‘pledging conference’ for donors and partners of the GAVI Alliance (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, which Gates co-founded in 2000) that kicks off in London on Monday.
Hosted by David Cameron, the event marks the culmination of a drive, spearheaded by Gates, to raise $3.7 billion to vaccinate 243 million children in the world’s poorest countries against illnesses such as pneumonia and measles. Gates and Cameron are expected to announce the money has been successfully raised and, it’s hoped, will save four million lives over the next four years.
His foundation began humbly in 1994 after a double whammy that made the billionaire think about his own mortality. It was the year Gates married Melinda, 46, a former Microsoft manager, and when his much-loved mother Mary, a former teacher and businesswoman, died of breast cancer.
After Mary’s death, Gates’s father Bill Sr, feeling listless, started ploughing through the stacks of begging letters which had piled up at his son’s office, simply ‘for something to do’. He would send the requests he thought worthy to his son, who would then write the cheques, which Bill Sr would send out with brief notes. Bill Sr is now co-chair of the foundation, and still shows up for work every day, despite being 85.
In a letter to her daughter-in-law on the eve of the wedding, Mary Gates wrote, ‘From those to whom much is given, much is expected.’
Gates still has the letter.
Gates at work in 1984. As the co-founder, with Paul Allen, of Microsoft, he grew a 1975 back-room start-up into a software behemoth worth, at its peak, $400 billion
‘It was six months before my mum died, so of course we kept that. It’s at home.’
Gates decided vaccinating the world’s disadvantaged is a cost-effective, simple way to help the very poor.
‘You get more bang for your buck.’
Why not be the guy who cures cancer instead?
‘The motto of the foundation is that every life has equal value. There are more people dying of malaria than any specific cancer. When you die of malaria aged three it’s different from being in your seventies, when you might die of a heart attack or you might die of cancer. And the world is putting massive amounts into cancer, so my wealth would have had a meaningless impact on that.’
He is swift to praise the Prime Minister for increasing Britain’s foreign aid.
‘What David Cameron is doing is something to be proud of. The UK has led the way, particularly in getting value for money. Your government went and ranked the various aid groups. Some came out poorly and some came out very strongly. GAVI was ranked one of the best of all, because if you give those vaccines to the poorest of the poor, the impact on saving lives and avoiding sickness is incredible.’
Bill and Melinda Gates in India earlier this year. Their foundation has assets worth $37.1 billion. He intends to give it all away
I mildly disappoint him when I ask whether foreign aid really does go to the most deserving. What about Robert Mugabe’s henchmen skimming off millions in Zimbabwe?
‘Well, no one gives aid to Zimbabwe through the Mugabe government,’ he says sharply.
‘Charities like the World Food Programme go in on a direct basis. When we buy vaccines we are super-smart about what we pay. We get price reductions. We can track how many kids get the vaccines. People don’t stockpile vaccines. It’s not like you’re going to go to Mugabe’s mansion and you’d find polio vaccines in the basement and he’s going’ – at this point, marvellously, he breaks into a Dr Evil impression – ‘“Ha, ha, ha! I took it ALL!”’
'When you go into a ward with kids who have cholera, it's horrific'
How about countries like India, which receives billions in aid yet has 70 billionaires and a space programme?
‘Countries which receive aid do graduate,’ he insists. ‘Within a generation Korea went from being a big recipient to being a big aid donor. China used to get quite a bit of aid; now it’s aid-neutral. India in the north still needs all the help we can give in terms of helping with childhood death rates, maternal deaths and polio.
‘It is important to me to get out into the field. I went to Uttar Pradesh (in northern India) recently. It was a long way from this…’
He waves his hand around the conference room.
‘It is important to see places. When you go into a ward with kids who have cholera, it’s horrific. They are losing their vital fluids and their brains are shutting down. As a father, as a human, it’s just horrific.
‘I met this girl, Hoshman, a polio victim. She’s three years old and can’t walk and never will. She’s just beginning to realise how different her life will be from the other kids’. I spoke to her mum and her older sister. Because of the work we’ve done she will be one of the last 50 kids in India to be paralysed from polio.’
He smiles when I tell him one of his foundation workers told me how he helped pull himself across a river in Uttar Pradesh, and that while everyone in the Western world has heard of Bill Gates, in the Third World he’s a nobody.
‘Oh, absolutely. They don’t know who I am, because it doesn’t relate to their world. I went to one place with the chief minister and someone said, “Who is this guy?”, and the chief minister said, “This is a white-skinned guy I brought with me.” If you’re a person struggling to eat and stay healthy you might have heard about Michael Jordan or Muhammad Ali, but you’ll never have heard of Bill Gates.’>Enlarge
His passion for aid is such that he devotes his spare time to reading about it: ‘At the moment I’m reading Getting Better by Charles Kenny, and I’m going to China soon, so I’m reading The Dragon’s Gift, about the history of Chinese aid to Africa.’
Gates is a voracious reader. His famously palatial home – a £100 million, 66,000 sq ft hi-tech wonderland overlooking nearby Lake Washington – has a library packed with books. Ironically, he prefers his books in old-fashioned physical form: ‘I read a lot of obscure books and it is nice to open a book. But the electronic devices are good as well. Digital reading will completely take over. It’s lightweight and it’s fantastic for sharing. Over time it will take over.’
His pride and joy is the Codex Leicester, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, which he bought in 1994 for $30.8 million.
‘I’m lucky that I own that notebook. I’ve always been amazed by Da Vinci, because he worked out science on his own. He would work by drawing things and writing down his ideas. Of course, he designed all sorts of flying machines way before you could actually build something like that.’
He says it would be one of the first things he’d rescue from his home in a fire, but adds, ‘I have documents by Isaac Newton and Abraham Lincoln. I have some pretty nice art too. It would be a shame to lose any of that.’
He’s still inquisitive about technology. Pointing to a large whiteboard behind my head in the conference room, he gives me a tip.
‘The next big thing is definitely speech and voice recognition. You’ll be able to touch that board or speak to it and get your message to colleagues around the world. Screens are cheap.’
He has his own Twitter account and Facebook page, although ‘I had a problem with Facebook, because the friend requests got out of hand’.
He is friends with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 27, who has already pledged to give most of his fortune away. Gates lets slip that Zuckerberg may be engaged to Priscilla Chan, his long-term girlfriend: ‘I didn’t say to Mark, “Give me all your money!” He was predisposed to do it and he came to me seeking advice.
'His fiancée Priscilla thought about education and he gave money to Newark, New Jersey, and we did a co-grant so that some of our people who had some expertise in that field could help him out. He deserves credit. I started meaningful philanthropy in my forties. He’s starting way earlier.’
I ask about his ‘legacy’, and for the first time I understand how Microsoft employees felt when Gates interrupted meetings to declare, ‘That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard!’
‘Legacy is a stupid thing! I don’t want a legacy. If people look and see that childhood deaths dropped from nine million a year to four million because of our investment, then wow! I liken what I’m doing now to my old job. I worked with a lot of smart people; some things went well, some didn’t go so well. But when you see how what we did ended up empowering people, it’s a very cool thing.
'I want a malaria vaccine. If we get one then we’ll have to find the money to give it to everyone, but the impact would be so huge we would find a way. Understanding science and pushing the boundaries of science is what makes me immensely satisfied. What I’m doing now involves understanding maths, risk-taking. The first half of my life was good preparation for the second half.’
Gates was always described as a geek, but that seems terribly unfair in the wider context of the passions that now drive him. As I stand to leave, he laughs the label off.
‘Hey, if being a geek means you’re willing to take a 400-page book on vaccines and where they work and where they don’t, and you go off and study that and you use that to challenge people to learn more, then absolutely. I’m a geek. I plead guilty. Gladly.'
Source : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-2001697/Microsofts-Bill-Gates-A-rare-remarkable-interview-worlds-second-richest-man.html3530