Bill Gates’ Road To Riches: Behind The Billions (2024)

Co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

No. 6

Rank on 2023 Forbes 400 List of Richest Americans

$111 B

Net Worth as of September 8, 2023

AGE: 67 | SOURCE OF WEALTH: MICROSOFT, INVESTMENTS | SELF-MADE SCORE: 8/10 | RESIDENCE: MEDINA, WASHINGTON | CITIZENSHIP: UNITED STATES | MARITAL STATUS: DIVORCED | CHILDREN: 3 | EDUCATION: DROP OUT, HARVARD UNIVERSITY

Bill Gates turned his passion for computers into a job his senior year in high school coding for the electrical grid at a power plant in Washington state. He later dropped out of Harvard to launch software firm Microsoft with his high school friend Paul Allen in 1975 and took it public in 1986. Microsoft played a pivotal role in changing the landscape of personal computing, beginning at a time when very few individuals owned a computer. Forbes first listed Gates as a billionaire in 1987; he was the richest person in the world, according to Forbes, from 1995 through 2017 (except in 2008 and from 2010 through 2013). Largely due to the tens of billions of dollars of stock he donated to the Gates Foundation, he was overtaken as the world’s richest person in 2018 by Jeff Bezos. As of September 8, 2023, Gates was the sixth richest American (and the seventh richest worldwide). Gates ceded the Microsoft CEO role to Steve Ballmer (who lived down the hall from Gates his sophom*ore year at Harvard) in 2000; he remained chairman until 2014 and stayed on the board for six more years. He told Forbes earlier this year that he still spends about 10% of his time consulting with teams at Microsoft, including those at OpenAI, which Microsoft has backed. Despite his 2021 divorce from his wife Melinda, the two continue to co-chair The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which, with assets of $67.3 billion as of December 2022, is the largest private charitable foundation in the world.

Wealth History

Asset Breakdown

As of September 8, 2023

💻 Microsoft: $33.8 B

💵 Cash & Other Investments: $26.9 B

🚛 Republic Services: $16.1 B

🚜 Deere & Co: $7.9 B

🛎️ Four Seasons Hotels $6.6 B

🚰 Ecolab: $5.7 B

🧴 Givaudan S.A.: $3.2 B

📈 Berkshire Hathaway: $2.4 B

🚗 AutoNation: $1.5 B

🛩️ Signature Aviation$1.4 B

🌾 Landholdings & Farmland: $1.2 B

🥤 Fomento Economico Mexicano: $1.2B

🛤️ Canadian National Railway: $1.1 B

🧪 Sika AG: $1.1 B

🍺 Heineken Holding NV: $500 M

🧬 Ginkgo Bioworks: $300 M

🏘️ Homes: $230 M

“I can’t deny being a rich guy with an opinion. I do believe, though, that it is an informed opinion, and I am always trying to learn more.”

Philanthropy

5/5

Philanthropy Score

With Melinda French Gates, he set up the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 and has since donated $59 billion, much of it gifts of Microsoft stock, to the foundation, which has grown to become the world’s largest private charitable foundation, with a $67.3 billion endowment. Warren Buffett began donating billions of dollars of Berkshire Hathaway stock to the Gates Foundation on an annual basis in 2006. The foundation funds programs in developing countries that improve health (including vaccinations) and work to lift people out of poverty; in the U.S., the foundation primarily funds education programs. Gates told Forbes in July 2022 that the goal is to increase annual giving 50% to $9 billion a year by 2026. The plan is for the Gates Foundation to run for just 25 more years, Gates said at a Forbes gathering in September 2022. Forbes estimates that the Gates’ portion of the grants paid out by the Gates Foundation through August 2023 is $40.2 billion.

SOME OF GATES FOUNDATION’S LARGEST PLEDGES TO DATE:

$10 B

$2.1 B

$1.8 B

$1.55 B

$1.2 B

$1.1 B

History


1968
Gates developed his first software programs -including a tic tac toe game–at age 13 at Lakeside School, the private school he attended in Seattle–and where he had access to a computer, then a rare opportunity. In high school he and his friend Paul Allen (and later Microsoft cofounder) stole the password file for the offsite computer they had access to; Gates told a reporter at Time they were banned from using the computer for a year.


1975
Gates dropped out of Harvard following his second year in order to join his friend Paul Allen in Albuquerque, New Mexico to work on adapting software for the Altair 8800, a newly released personal computer. They cofounded Micro-soft (initially spelled with a hyphen) in November. Gates and Allen (who was not a Harvard student) did early work on their software in the Harvard computer lab. Gates was admonished by Harvard’s administrative board for allowing a non-student (Allen) to log onto the school’s computer.


1977
Gates was arrested in December in Albuquerque, reportedly for running a stop sign and driving without a license. In a 2007 interview with Time, Gates said he was out driving Paul Allen’s car, and ended up spending the night in jail.

1985
Microsoft released spreadsheet software Excel and Windows 1, the first iteration of their operating system.


1986
Microsoft went public on March 13, 1986, selling $61 million of stock. Gates was just 30 years old.


1994
Bill and Melinda, who had been an employee at Microsoft, met in 1987. They got married in an unpublicized ceremony reportedly at the Manele Bay Hotel on the Hawaiian island of Lanai.


1998
Microsoft lost a landmark antitrust suit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the attorneys general of 20 states. Gates’ answers in a deposition tied to the suit were at times quite contentious, and included questioning the meaning of the word “concerned.”


2000
The Gateses launched The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a combination of the William H. Gates Foundation and the Gates Learning Foundation. Gates handed off the Microsoft CEO job to Steve Ballmer, who lived down the hall from Gates his sophom*ore year at Harvard. Gates took on the role of chief software architect and remained chairman of the board.


2002
Bill and Melinda’s third child, Phoebe, was born, following the birth of daughter Jennifer in 1996 and son Rory in 1999. All three children attended Lakeside School, the same private prep school in Seattle where Bill went.


2008
In July Gates stepped down from his full-time role at Microsoft but stayed on the board. That followed his decision in 2006 to give up the chief software architect position. Gates said he was reordering his priorities and would focus more on the Gates Foundation.


2014
In February, Gates stepped down as chairman but stayed on as a technical advisor and Microsoft board member. Satya Nadella was appointed Microsoft CEO.


2020
Gates stepped down from the boards of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway in March.


2021
Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates announced their divorce–on Twitter and Instagram–in May. In October their older daughter Jenn married Olympic equestrian Nayel Nasser at a luxe wedding in North Salem, New York.


2022
Gates transferred $20 billion to the Gates Foundation in July. At a Forbes conference in September, he said he expects the foundation to wind down its operations in 25 years.

2023
In a February interview with Forbes, Gates said he’s been spending 10% of his time consulting with teams at Microsoft, including with OpenAI, which Microsoft backed. “This is every bit as important as the PC, as the internet,” Gates said, referring to generative artificial intelligence tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT. In March, Gates invested alongside Microsoft in AI chatbot startup Inflection.ai.

On The Cover: Bill Gates

( left: April 1991; right: November 2011 )

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Bill Gates’ Road To Riches: Behind The Billions (2024)
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