Once a young boy who enjoyed tinkering with computers, Bill Gates now is one of the richest people in the world. According to Forbes, Gates’ net worth was at a staggering $128.1 billion as of April 2021.
These days, Gates is more interested in giving his money away than he is in acquiring more. In 2010, along with his wife, Melinda, and fellow multibillionaire Warren Buffett, Bill Gates co-founded The Giving Pledge, which encourages the world’s wealthiest people to give away most of their fortunes to charity. He has donated $35.8 billion in stock from Microsoft, the company he co-founded, to his own Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest private charitable foundation in the world.
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Budding entrepreneurs and philanthropists want to know how Gates amassed his fortune so that they might join the Billionaires’ Club one day. Here are just a few ways that Bill Gates was able to become a massive success.
Last updated: April 5, 2021
He Has a Thirst for Knowledge
Gates attended Harvard University only briefly before he dropped out, yet he attributes his time there to his success. “It was an amazing privilege (studying at Harvard), and though I left early, I was transformed by my years at Harvard, the friendships I made, and the ideas I worked on,” Gates said in a 2007 commencement speech.Gates studied computers, but he also dabbled in many other subjects that interested him at the Ivy League school. “Academic life was fascinating,” he said during the speech. “I used to sit in on lots of classes I hadn’t even signed up for.” This thirst for knowledge and his willingness to always improve and learn contributed to the growth of his eventual business.
His Parents Were Supportive
When asked in 1998 about his role models, Gates said he looked up to his parents. “I had great parents, both of whom were involved in lots of interesting activities and would come home and talk to us about the world of business or law or politics or the charitable activities they were involved in,” he said.Gates’ parents nurtured and supported his interest in computers as well — even after he decided to abandon his Harvard education. Gates’ father, Bill Gates Sr., told Forbes that his son’s decision to drop out of college “wasn’t precisely what my wife and I had envisioned for any of our children.”However, Gates’ parents were extremely supportive of his endeavors after that. After Gates’ mother died in 1994, The New York Times reported that she had helped her son “get the contract that led to a lucrative relationship with IBM for his fledgling Microsoft Corporation.”As for his father, Gates long cited him as an inspiration for his philanthropic work, which has dominated the younger Gates’ time and energies since he left his day-to-day work at Microsoft in 2008. The elder Gates was actively involved in his son’s philanthropic work — he even wrote the first check for Gates’ foundation — until his death in September at the age of 94.Check Out: 20 Hobbies of the Rich Only They Can Afford
He Reads a Lot
In the Forbes interview, Gates’ father said his son was an incredibly avid reader as a child. “Just about every kind of book interested him — encyclopedias, science fiction, you name it,” he said. “I was thrilled that my child was such an avid reader, but he read so much that Bill’s mother and I had to institute a rule: no books at the dinner table.”Gates has maintained his love of reading throughout his life. He even has his own blog where he frequently recommends books to his readers.Reading likely contributed to Gates’ net worth, as it helped provide him with the knowledge he would need to become a successful entrepreneur.Take a Look: 9 Best Personal Finance Books To Read
He Chose a Great Business Partner
Gates has made countless brilliant business decisions, many of which have involved the people he has chosen to work with. “I’d say my best business decisions really have to do with picking people,” Gates said in the 1998 interview. “Deciding to go into partnership with Paul Allen is probably at the top of the list.”Allen and Gates were friends growing up, and they co-founded Microsoft in 1975. Allen left the company eight years later after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. A fellow philanthropist who gave away more than $2 billion, Allen owned the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers at the time of his death from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2018 at age 65. Throughout the years, Gates and Allen had a “complex relationship,” as outlined in Allen’s book, “Idea Man: A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft.” However, Gates attributes Microsoft’s early success to his partnership with Allen and the many lessons they learned along the way.
He Stayed Confident in His Dream and Vision
Gates was fortunate to attend Lakeside School, an elite private school in Seattle that gave him access to computers when he was in the seventh grade. And instead of just teaching students how to use computers in the conventional sense, the school “unleashed” them, according to Gates. Looking back, he said his experiences at the school gave him the encouragement he needed to do the impossible.“The experience and insight Paul Allen and I gained here gave us the confidence to start a company based on this wild idea that nobody else agreed with — that computer chips were going to become so powerful that computers and software would become a tool that would be on every desk and in every home,” Gates said in a 2005 speech at his former school.Read: 19 Traits of Highly Successful Billionaires
He Had an Emergency Fund for Microsoft
Gates learned early that in order to be successful, he had to amass a large emergency fund for Microsoft, which would keep the business afloat if it ever encountered financial obstacles.“I got this incredibly conservative approach that I wanted to have enough money in the bank to pay a year’s worth of payroll even if we didn’t get any payments coming in, and I’m almost true to that the whole time,” he said during a 1998 interview. “We have almost $10 billion now, which is pretty much enough for the next year.”
He Learned From His Mistakes With Microsoft
Everyone makes mistakes, including Gates. The key, however, is to learn from those mistakes, and that’s exactly what Gates does.In a 2008 BBC interview in which he talked about how Microsoft was able to beat competitors, Gates said, “Our products were successful enough that even when we did make a mistake — when we hired the wrong person or organized things the wrong way — we were frank enough with ourselves to say, ‘Oops, this isn’t working.’ And yet, my conservative balance sheet approach meant that for all the mistakes we made, we had a chance to learn from them and do different things.”This ability to be creative, work with his team and have a big enough cash cushion to continuously grow and try new things contributed greatly to Microsoft’s success and, eventually, Gates’ fortune.See: Here’s What Bill Gates Says You Should Do With Your Money
He Gets Seven Hours of Sleep
Although many successful businessmen like to brag about how little sleep they get, Gates is the opposite. He knows he’s not superhuman and that sleep is required for his intellectual curiosity to be at its best.“I like to get seven hours of sleep,” he told The Seattle Times in 1990. “Even though it’s fun to stay up all night — maybe taking a red-eye flight — if I have to be creative, I need seven hours. I can give a speech without much sleep; I can do parts of my job that way. But in thinking creatively — I’m not much good without seven hours.”
He Has a Good Money Manager
When it comes to choosing a financial advisor, Gates certainly knows how to pick ’em. His money manager, Michael Larson, is largely responsible for growing Gates’ fortune.Business Insider reported in 2014 that Gates hired Larson more than two decades ago — when his net worth was $5 billion — to run his personal investment company, Cascade Investment, LLC. According to Business Insider, Gates is “getting richer faster than he can give his money away” thanks to Larson.Larson also manages investment assets for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Check Out: Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg and Other Rich People Not Leaving a Fortune to Their Kids
He Diversified His Private Portfolio
When Gates was building Microsoft, he put most of his time, energy and creative talent into making it arguably the greatest tech company in the world. Once he got rich, however, he did what most financial advisors recommend investors do regardless of their net worth — he diversified. Gates sold most of his Microsoft stock — he now owns a little more than 1% of the company’s shares. He then used the cash to invest in a wide range of different stocks and other assets that protected his massive portfolio from a single-security calamity and sent his already sizable fortune soaring.
He Knew When He'd Outgrown Partnerships
Microsoft’s partnership with IBM formed the backbone of the 1980s personal computer revolution. The two companies collaborated to create the operating systems that breathed life into most PCs. By the early 1990s, however, the partnership had stagnated and Gates determined Microsoft would be better going it alone. The gamble paid off. When the separation was complete in 1992, IBM walked away with the jointly created OS/2 operating system and Microsoft left with the software that would make it king: MS-DOS and Windows. In 2016, Forbes wrote of Gates, “His decision to divorce IBM stands as one of his best. Microsoft took control over its own destiny.”
He Learned To Give Up Control
According to a 2019 report from Inc., Gates found success only after he learned to trust the people he hired and delegate responsibility to them. That, however, required Gates to do something that was antithetical to his entire personality — forfeit control. In Microsoft’s early years, Gates maintained a tight grasp on everything that happened and did whatever he could himself, but how could he grow Microsoft to its full potential if he spent all day writing code or editing code that others had written? He couldn’t. Instead, he developed relationships with key employees, and those relationships were based on mutual trust. He found that the new mentality allowed him to take on the role of mentor instead of micromanager, which, it turns out, suited him well.
He Has Remained Passionate About His Work
As many entrepreneurs have said, you must love what you do if you hope to be successful. Bill Gates fell in love with computers as a child and spent a lifetime building one of the most successful businesses in the world.“You’ve got to enjoy what you do every day, and for me that’s working with very smart people,” Gates said in 1998. “It’s working on new problems. … The competition, the breakthroughs, the research make the field I’m in, I think, the most exciting field there is.”Even though he left his day-to-day role at Microsoft more than a decade ago, Gates served as Microsoft’s chairman of the board. In 2020, however, he left the board to focus solely on his philanthropic work. As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, Gates reinvented himself again by emerging as a leading advocate for science-based policy in government while donating hundreds of millions of dollars to coronavirus-related research and causes.More From GOBankingRatesNominate Your Favorite Small Business and Share With Your Community
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Andrew Lisa contributed to the reporting for this article.