There?s a fellow that few people tire of hearing about because he?s a
contrast in personalities in so many respects:
? A college dropout who went to private schools, his foundation has
re-engineering of American public high schools as a goal
? The house on Lake Washington is ostentatious, he likes sporty cars
but he still favors blue jeans and casual clothing
? Though he?s accumulated a large fortune, he?s said that the
inheritance left to his children will be limited. And his father has
led the fight to retain estate taxes in the interest of social
? A quintessential geek, he?s also the country?s leading
philanthropist, with an interest in the issues of AIDs in Africa
? His father?s a lawyer, but he?s very un-lawyerly
? A long-time bachelor, he?s now a devoted family man
? A very private individual, yet he?s extremely concerned about his
public image. And that image is so carefully cultivated that he?s
treated as a ?brand? within his corporation.
? Quiet, gracious and polite, he can be abrupt to the point of
rudeness when he feels employees are missing key strategic information
? Long known for eschewing the privileges of corporate offices and
traveling on commercial airlines, he finally has a company jet
? A major shareholder in one of the largest U.S. public corporations,
he also has investments in many private companies, Corbis among them
Bill Gates, Jr., chairman, is known for the key decisions that reshaped Microsoft:
? he made the decision to purchase Seattle Computer Systems? operating
system, then took the redesigned product to market as MS-DOS
? he made the decision to develop a competing graphical operating
system in Windows 3.0, even while the man who?s now his CEO (Steve
Ballmer) was evangelizing IBM?s OS/2 as the operating system of the
? he coordinated the company?s development of the Internet browser and
the competitive attack on Netscape
Bill is a good subject because he?s well-known. He?s also a good
subject because there are so many Bill Gates stories and few, if any,
that have been told so often that they?re trivialized.
The Wall Street Journal published a great front page article on his
decision-making style about a month ago:
Wall Street Journal
?Think Pad --
In Secret Hideaway, Bill Gates Ponders Microsoft?s Future,? (Guth, March 28, 2005)
The article, available online at WSJ.com, is also likely still on the
shelves of your public library. It describes his twice-a-year ritual
of reading technical and business briefs, then making notes for action
by Microsoft managers. The ritual is punctuated by a steady supply of
Diet Orange Crush, and led to an internal paper that re-oriented the
Good Ship Microsoft to change direction and develop its Internet
browser following a paper he wrote in 1995 called ?The Internet Tidal
By the way, if you use the headline of the news story in a Google
search, you?ll find at least 30 articles commenting on Gates, some
with other excerpts from the story.
There?s a lot written about Bill and much of it pertains to technology
and directions that Microsoft is taking ? unlike the Wall Street
Journal article which is more about decision-making and leadership.
That includes this C/Net article, but I include it because it talks
about how people within the company funnel information to him:
?Gates taking a seat in your den,? (Kanellos, Jan. 5, 2005)
A good book about Microsoft?s management style is David Thielan?s ?The
12 Simple Rules of Microsoft Management,? summarized very neatly in
this article by Matt Richey, of Motley Fool:
?The 12 Simple Rules of Microsoft Management,? (Richey, 1999)
Lots of books have been written about Gates? and Microsoft?s
management style, but one of the better ones is ?Microsoft Secrets,?
written by a pair of professors, Michael A. Cusumano and Richart W.
Selby. The book, written in 1995, is an interesting critique of the
company and suggests that Gates himself is both a strength and a
weakness in the company. Gates may be stretched too thin and middle
management too weak, they contend. It?s interesting especially since
Gates stepped out of day-to-day management in 2000, so we have 10
years of evolution of a new Internet market and of Microsoft
management to evaluate the criticisms of Cusumano & Selby.
An interesting way to look at the software magnate is also to search
through the archives of the online business publications like Business
Week, Forbes and Fortune. In 2003, for example, Business Week
interviewed him on his investments and philanthropy. (You may need to
register for the Business Week site, but the content is available at
?Biology and Bill Gates ? How His Passion Imbues His Portfolio and His
Philanthropy,? (Greene, May 5, 2003)
One of the interesting accounts that I found was this reprinting of a
Playboy interview of Gates, undated but from 1994 (as it notes that he
was 38 and Mr. Gates is now 49). It has David Rensin, a contributing
editor, contrasting an interview in 1991 ? and has Gates contrasting
himself with some other business leaders, like Rupert Murdoch and John
Malone (TCI Cable):
?The Bill Gates Interview? (undated ? taken from 1994 Playboy Magazine)
We also have the words of Gates himself from two books that he?s
written, though they deal more with a layman?s explanation of the
direction of computer technology than of management:
?The Road Ahead,? Bill Gates, 1996
?Business @ the Speed of Thought: Succeeding in the Digital Economy,?
Bill Gates, 2000
And, of course, you have his website, with a number of published articles:
?Bill Gates Home Page?
As with many executives, Gates and his time is carefully managed.
Microsoft may take it a step further than others, realizing that he?s
an identity and brand unto itself ? as important as Ralph Lauren or
Richard Branson are to their companies. It was recognized early (by
the mid-1980s) as business partners would request Bill?s presence at
key meetings. It led to setting up strategic briefings for OEMs and
software partners, then later to Fortune 500 executive briefings in
Redmond that included dinner at the chairman?s home in Medina.
The company has used it to set up direct communication channels to
other business executives, such as the ?Executive E-Mail?
Google search strategy:
?Bill Gates? management
?Bill Gates? + ?management style?
?Bill Gates? + "as a brand"