Bill Gates Biography The digital demagogue earned billions by anticipating the market's needs. Now, his philanthropic foundation is helping countless others across the globe.
Bill Gates is perhaps the most well-known computer businessman in history. Not only did he start the most popular computing company of all time, Microsoft, but he also changed the way computers were made and marketed forever.
His entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen are worth studying. So let's take a closer look at Bill Gates, his history, how he started his famous company and his current philanthropic endeavors.
Who is Bill Gates?
William Henry Gates III is best known as the founder and leader of Microsoft. He created the company in 1975 with his business partner Paul Allen. Though Paul Allen left the company some years later, William H. Gates remained with Microsoft for decades, heading it as the CEO until he left the position in 2000.
Gates remained with Microsoft until 2008, then retired to take a position on the board of advisors. Since then, he has primarily acted as a business investor and charity leader, driving positive developments worldwide as the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and his involvement in other organizations.
How did Bill Gates start Microsoft?
Although many don't know it, Bill Gates didn't start Microsoft alone. His pursuit began when he attended Lakeside High School in Seattle. There, he met a fellow student named Paul Allen; together, they worked in the school's computer room for hours on end.
By the time the duo was 16, Bill Gates and Paul Allen went into business together, securing investment funds to develop the "Traf-O-Data" software program to measure traffic flow throughout the Seattle Metro area. This was the first business partnership that the two collaborated on, but it wouldn't be the last.
Harvard and the Altair 8800
Though Bill Gates attended Harvard University, he didn't focus much on his studies. After reading a magazine article in December 1974 about the world's first microcomputer, the Altair 8800, Gates and Allen decided to pursue a business opportunity only they could see.
They contacted the manufacturer of the Altair 880, MITS, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
They told the president they had written a version of the computer language BASIC specifically for the microcomputer. Though this was a fabrication, the pair wanted to see if there was any interest in their "design."
To the pair's surprise, the president of MITS said that he'd like to see the language. Scrambling, Gates and Allen started working 24/7 to create the promised language.
They simulated the Altair 8800's capabilities on other computers since they had no microcomputer to work on or test.
Still, Gates knew the opportunity was too good to pass up. When the pair showed the language to MITS, it was a resounding success. Inspired, Gates took a leave of absence from Harvard in November 1975, taking a job offer to work at MITS full-time.
The formation of Microsoft
More importantly, Bill Gates and Paul Allen entered an official business partnership named "Micro-Soft." The two got the name for the company by combining the words microcomputer and software.
However, by November 26, 1976, they'd changed the name to the more commonly recognized "Microsoft" version. Microsoft's first product was the Altair BASIC language, but Gates and Paul Allen continued to work on new products. Gates never returned to Harvard University, as his business was already massively successful.
In the years to come, MITS would collapse, but Microsoft endured. July 1980 saw IBM approach Microsoft to write software for the upcoming personal computer, the IBM PC.
Although Microsoft was initially contracted to write a BASIC interpreter for the IBM PC, the company was instead eventually hired to write the operating system for the upcoming computer when negotiations with Digital Research, another company, fell through.
Pivot to operating systems and corporate dominance
This was the start of Microsoft's long-term success as a software company. Microsoft invented the MS-DOS operating system, which was eventually used for many other PCs created by different manufacturers.
The company's growth skyrocketed; Microsoft expanded into developing applications software, eventually building a GUI-based operating system called Microsoft Windows to compete with the newly released Macintosh Apple Computer.
Windows was a huge success, and each successive operating system version was based on its original version (MS-DOS) until Windows XP.
By 1986, Microsoft went public to create more capital for expansion. It was a huge success; the company took in $61 million, and Bill Gates became one of the wealthiest people in the United States in a single night.
What did Bill Gates invent?
Technically, Bill Gates didn't invent anything genuinely new. Instead, he and Paul Allen created two high-quality products that computer companies could use: the BASIC programming language for the Altair 8800 and the MS-DOS operating system for the IBM PC.
Bill Gates "invented" these things because he physically wrote the code for many of them. As the years progressed and Microsoft became more popular and successful, however, Gates transitioned from more of a front-line role into an executive role.
That's where he is today, heading Microsoft from afar rather than writing code as he did in his youth. In this sense, Bill Gates is less of an inventor and more of a savvy businessman.
He was especially successful because he showed enough innovation and tenacity in the early computer market to dominate competitors as they grew alongside his company.
How old is Bill Gates?
As of 2023, Bill Gates is 67 years old. He was born on October 28, 1955. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, he often spoke about the benefits of masks for older individuals.
What is Bill Gates' net worth?
At the time of this writing in spring of 2023,, Bill Gates' net worth is $107.9 billion. This combines his assets, stock options, portfolio values and estates.
He is currently the fourth richest person in the world, behind Bernard Arnault, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.
What are Bill Gates' primary investments?
Many entrepreneurs and future business owners may wish to grow their wealth by copying some of the primary stock investments Bill Gates has made over the years. Though he is no longer the CEO of Microsoft, Gates has continued to grow much of his wealth through savvy stock market movements.
Bill Gates' current primary stock market investments include:
- Microsoft Corporation (MSFT). Bill Gates maintains a sizable ownership percentage of the company he helped to found. He owns about 1.3% of the company, reflecting that he isn't nearly as hands-on as in previous decades.
- Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. (BRK.A, BRK.B). This is the holding company of Bill Gates' friend and fellow billionaire, Warren Buffett. It's the second-largest stockholding used by the Gates Foundation Trust. Microsoft and Berkshire make up about 47% of the Trust's portfolio, and there's no doubt that Gates himself also maintains a sizable holding.
- Canadian National Railway Co. (CNI). This is the stock for the fourth-largest North American railroad overall. Gates, the Gates Foundation and Cascade collectively hold over 64 million shares of CNI stock, worth approximately $7.5 billion.
- Deere & Co. (DE). As the world's largest producer of farm equipment, Deere is a surefire stock purchase for many, including Bill Gates. Over the years, he gifted over 3 million shares of Deere to the Foundation. In conjunction with Cascade and his Foundation, he still holds 23,700,000 shares of Deere stock, worth more than $10 billion, as of July 2022.
- Waste Management, Inc. (WM). Waste Management offers waste management and environmental services to various customers and locations. The Gates Foundation invested heavily in this company in the third quarter of 2002, which was wise, as the stock has generated returns of almost 1000% since that year. Currently, the Gates Foundation holds nearly 5.2 million WM stock shares worth approximately $5.52 billion.
- Republic Services, Inc. (RSG). This is another waste disposal services company and one of the most significant Gates holdings. As of February 2022, Cascade revealed that Bill Gates had added over 360,000 shares to his stake. This brings up Cascade's total holdings of RSG to approximately 109 million shares, collectively worth $14 billion.
- Ecolab, Inc. (ECL). ECL offers energy, hygiene and water technologies end-services for many markets, like the hospitality and healthcare industries. Gates has purchased millions of shares in this organization over the years. Today, the Gates Foundation holds 5.2 million shares of this stock, collectively worth nearly $760 million.
- EarthNow. EarthNow is a Seattle-based startup company. Its mission is to cover the planet with live satellite video, and Gates is a substantial financial backer.
As you can see, Bill Gates has built up his portfolio of investments by focusing on technology companies and clean energy firms. These are smart investments, as they are likely only to increase in value soon as these companies become more valuable.
Where did Bill Gates receive his education?
Although Bill Gates has been massively successful and attended Harvard, he doesn't have the most extensive or robust educational record.
Gates' real educational history begins at 13 when he was enrolled in a private Lakeside prep school. That's where he wrote the first software program and developed his interest in computer science.
By the eighth grade, he purchased blocks of computer time using a General Electric computer reserved for students. His first computer program was a version of tic-tac-toe that let students play the game against the machine.
Gates later attended Lakeside High School, where he met his longtime friend, Paul Allen. Then he enrolled in Harvard University after being inspired by his father, William Henry Gates II.
He dropped out of Harvard to focus on Microsoft full-time and never completed his bachelor's degree. Nevertheless, Harvard later awarded Gates an honorary doctorate.
Who is in Bill Gates' family?
Bill Gates has a large family that he is still in contact with. He has two sisters, one of which is older than him (Kristianne) and one of which is younger (Libby). Gates' father was a lawyer, and his mother was a successful American entrepreneur.
The most crucial member of Gates' family is his former wife, Melinda French Gates. The couple met in 1987 when Melinda first started working at Microsoft. The marriage lasted for 27 years, producing three children: Jennifer, Rory and Phoebe.
Although the couple managed to do a lot of good with their combined wealth and philanthropic spirit, they divorced in August 2021.
What kind of donations, charity and philanthropic efforts has Bill Gates pursued?
Bill Gates is well known for founding Microsoft and being a shrewd, relentless businessman. But he's also known for his philanthropic efforts.
The most well-known is undoubtedly the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a charitable organization created in 2000 by combining three previously existing family foundations and donated stock. The new Foundation started with assets of over $84.6 billion.
Over the years, the Foundation has donated billions of dollars to charity, relief and human development resources and organizations. By 2007, Bill and Melinda Gates were the second most generous philanthropists in the United States, having donated over $28 billion. Both have gone on record stating that they plan to donate 95% of their wealth to charity.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is currently organized into five primary program areas:
- Global development division.
- Global health division.
- United States division.
- Global policy division.
- Advocacy division.
Many of these divisions fund or spearhead projects such as Alzheimer's research, breakthrough energy tech to avoid a climate disaster and means to reduce carbon emissions. With Microsoft co-founder and friend Paul Allen and fellow billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Gates continues to make a difference with non-profits and the next generation.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports many programs and efforts, particularly public health projects. Over the years, it has provided financial and other aid to fight transmissible diseases like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. It has also contributed to vaccine distribution programs to eliminate polio worldwide.
Furthermore, the Foundation's agricultural division supports the International Rice Research Institute in developing Golden Rice, a new genetically modified rice species that can help combat vitamin A deficiency. The Foundation also focuses on providing over 120 million women and girls with high-quality contraceptive services, resources and education.
Other charitable organizations and efforts
Aside from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, both titular founders have made substantial personal donations for other philanthropic effects. For example, Bill Gates provided personal donations to many educational institutions over the years, including his old Lakeside school. In 1999, he donated $20 million to MIT and $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund in November 2017.
In June 2018, Bill Gates offered various free e-books to new graduates of US universities and colleges and free e-books to all college and university students worldwide. Bill Gates has previously cited the philanthropic efforts of David Rockefeller as one of his significant inspirations.
In terms of wealth inheritance, Bill and Melinda Gates stated that they intend to leave each of their children only $10 million each. By the time of their deaths, they will have donated approximately 99.96% of their wealth to charity.
Is Bill Gates a robber baron?
A robber baron is a businessman who becomes rich using business practices broadly perceived as ruthless, exploitative or manipulative. Because Bill Gates rose to such massive success so quickly, many have likened him to a modern-day robber baron.
However, it's essential to know that Gates never did anything illegal. Though, as Microsoft rose in the computer science industry, he engaged in ruthless business practices.
For example, he would purchase up-and-coming companies, then dissolve them thoroughly to prevent them from competing with Microsoft in any way. But this isn't illegal; it's a business practice that constantly occurs across every industry.
Whether or not Bill Gates is a robber baron is largely up to the individual. Although Microsoft may have ruined the business dreams of other entrepreneurs, it was only ever through those individuals' choices.
Furthermore, Bill Gates has contributed much of his money to charity and needful organizations throughout his career, even signing the Giving Pledge in 2010. It's easy to imagine that these positive contributions far outweigh any minor damage he may have done while accumulating his wealth.
What are the best Bill Gates quotes?
Bill Gates is one of the richest people in the world — not solely due to his net worth but also because of his insights and wisdom. Here are a few of Gates' most impactful quotes:
- "We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve."
- "Everyone needs a coach. It doesn't matter whether you're a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or a bridge player."
- "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning."
- "It's fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure."
- "Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one."
- "Don't compare yourself with anyone in this world. If you do so, you are insulting yourself."
What can you learn from Bill Gates' story?
Bill Gates isn't the only successful tech businessman. Still, he's one of the most successful overall. Everyone can gain something by learning about the history and investments of the Microsoft founder.
Check out Entrepreneur's other articles for more information about business leaders and other financial topics.