It’s a simple argument: Bill Gates is, by far, our industry’s greatest hero. It’s hard to believe we once saw Bill as the pie-splattered villain, and others as the idealists. And it’s hard to understand why, even now, the entrepreneur whom our youth admire far more than Bill Gates is someone who has had great commercial success but little interest in the world around him.
I thought of this because I was just reading Bill’s goofy comments at a Boy Scout ceremony, about weaving baskets and hiking 50 miles. His father, who has campaigned tirelessly for taxing the wealthy to fund education and balance the budget, talked about how proud he was of Bill, not as a titan of industry, but in a much humbler role: as a good citizen.
The article’s image of Bill smiling mildly seemed like a miracle. He seemed happy with himself, not miserable about his competitors, or anxious about his next million-dollar toy.
That’s quite a trick. A Plumtree customer who met Bill in the early ’90’s, away from Microsoft, described him only as “intensely awkward.” Most prodigies are isolated by the intensity of their own thoughts, bereft by their distance from the businesses they created, unable to resist the urge to second-guess their successors.
And most have no idea what to do with their money, except to focus on buildings bearing their name, colleges that will admit their children or win a football championship, symphonies that will toast them on opening night.
Those are good causes, too. But Bill Gates is spending his money, time and passion on folks who are mostly invisible to the rest of the world, who don’t necessarily share our values, who will never be able to thank him, who probably don’t even know who he is.
Bill has won plenty of accolades for his foundation, but more from the world of charities and doctors than from us. When the digerati last year launched a rallying cry to give entrepreneurs the Nobel Prize, it was for the founders of Twitter, not Bill Gates. Undoubtedly, the Twitter folks are visionaries who deserve all that’s coming to them. But Bill has been embraced more warmly by others than by his own.
Why do you think Silicon Valley has never quite come around on this guy? He deserves better.