Once the richest man in the world, Bill Gates still ranks in the top 5. His vast fortune comes primarily from his life as a technology developer and financier. Gates was the founder of Microsoft and a developer who turned a command-line operating system, DOS, into the graphical operating system, Windows, that powers 76% of the home personal computers in the world.
Before May 2014, Gates was the largest individual shareholder in Microsoft. Over his time with the company, Gates held the positions of Chairman, CEO, President, and Chief Software Architect. In 2020 he stepped down from his advisory position at Microsoft to focus on his philanthropic efforts.
In 1991 he met Melinda French and they began dating. They would marry in 1994, a relationship that lasted 27 years until their divorce in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Melinda Gates would refer to the divorce as "unbelievably painful," but that she "just couldn't stay in that marriage."
William Henry (Bill) Gates III is a technology and finance billionaire whose fortune in 2022 ranks as the world’s fourth largest, estimated between $104 and $118 billion. Gates, 66, is actively seeking to give away his fortune through philanthropy and has given away more than $50 billion through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. His primary charitable causes include world hunger, disease, and climate change mitigation and reversal.
Early Life and Career
Bill Gates is the son of William H. Gates II, commonly known in his later years as "Bill Gates, Sr.", an attorney, and co-founder of the law firm Shidler McBroom & Gates (later Preston Gates & Ellis), and Mary Gates (née Maxwell). Bill was encouraged early to be competitive; his parents encouraged their children to play games that had definable winning conditions that separated participants and encouraged competitiveness. As a result, Bill’s instincts to go for the winning condition in any situation he was in intensified over his young life.
As a young adult at Harvard University, Gates focused on building connections in the budding technology industry while also developing software. Developing from a program known as 86-DOS, developed by Tim Paterson, Gates’ MS-DOS was one of three operating systems offered to clients with the IBM 5150 or IBM PC. Within a year, MS-DOS was licensed to over 70 companies besides IBM, giving Gates a huge leg up on the burgeoning software market.
MS-DOS was released in 1981 and continued to be supported until 2006, when Microsoft support for the final version of MS-DOS, the 8.0 version that underpinned the Windows Me operating system, ceased. Command-line prompts for subsequent versions of Windows are formatted identically to classic MS-DOS command-line prompts, but the operating system only retains the appearance of MS-DOS and not the functionality. It cannot run without the Windows environment.
Bill Gates does not endorse consumer products and services. He has written or ghostwritten several books on business and activism. He has given numerous TED Talks on subjects including pandemics, technology, and futurism.
One of Gates’ only remaining consumer interests is his company Branded Entertainment Network. Through Branded Entertainment or BEN, he licenses the likenesses of various products for use on Netflix and Amazon television series. Gates remains involved with BEN’s activities but handed off day-to-day control of the company to its CEO, Gary Shenk, on July 1, 2007.
Gates has been the subject of numerous documentaries and feature films, including Triumph of the Nerds (1996), The Virtual Revolution (2010), and The Social Network (2010). In his appearances in two feature films in the 21st Century, he was portrayed by actor Steve Sires.
Investments and Income
Bill Gates’ often-quoted nominal salary of $1 million per day does not come close to fully encompassing his change in net worth. His substantial investment portfolio has increased dramatically since a low point in 2009 of $40 billion, a point that his fortune last touched in 1997, to between $104 and $118 billion in 2022. Tracking these changes, he has an overall income of roughly $5.6 billion per year, an amount that is barely offset by his charitable activities, detailed in the next section.
Bill and Melinda Gates, through their eponymous foundation, have contributed more to charitable foundations and causes than any person in history. The Gates have said that they intend to leave $10 million to each of their children as their inheritances, leaving well over 99.95% of their joint fortunes to be dispersed to various causes.
Bill Gates has spent 20 years acting for the improvement of sanitary conditions worldwide, the focus of much of his historical philanthropy. In 2010 he argued that the best way to slow population growth, a major factor affecting climate change, would be to improve sanitation and childhood immunization, as studies show that people have fewer children when they know that more of those children will live to adulthood.
Gates does not leave the habits of the developed world out of his sights in addressing climate change. To correct the trajectory of climate change, developed nations must reduce the carbon intensity of their industry, argues Gates. Personal responsibility for climate change simply does not come close to meeting the scale of the crisis, it must be done through policy.
Golden Rice Development
One of the breakthroughs in nutrition piloted by the Gates Foundation in cooperation with the Rockefeller Foundation is the development of beta carotene-containing genetically modified Golden Rice (a modified strain of Oryza sativa, known as Asian or Indica rice and mostly known in the west simply as rice). Rice is the foundational calorie source of much of the world. 2/3 of the world’s calories come from rice. Golden rice is a modified strain designed to activate a process already present in rice to convert lycopene, a common amino acid, into beta-carotene, an important amino acid for sight.
While Golden Rice had been developed since 1996, global uptake has been slow as anti-globalization and anti-GMO activists have targeted it as a symbol of what they oppose in modern food.
William Henry Gates III spent over 20 years atop the list of the world’s wealthiest people due primarily to his work with software giant Microsoft. During his time leading Microsoft, the company went from a small software firm founded in his wealthy Washington parents’ suburban garage to a global billion-dollar software and entertainment company producing everything from consumer productivity applications to video game consoles.
Gates’ philanthropic efforts have dispersed $50 billion from his fortune since his marriage to Melinda French in 1994, and his net worth estimates do not appear to include marital common property dispersals to Melinda French Gates since their divorce in 2021.
Bill Gates’s fortune of $104 billion is likely to grow at a relatively stable rate. His extensive philanthropic activities in the areas of global environmental justice, nutritional justice, and climate mitigation are to a large extent offset by investment income. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will have a substantial challenge on his death in accomplishing his specific aim of fully disbursing the overwhelming majority of his fortune, with only a relatively small residue of $10 million each being left to his children.
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Written by Maria McCutchen
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