Love him or hate him, Bill Gates has been a venerable worldwide business icon for more than three decades, ever since the first mass-produced personal computer debuted in 1981. Alternately described as an ingenious visionary and a tyrannical, sometimes less-than-scrupulous businessman, he has been all but impossible to ignore. But despite one's opinion of Gates, even his most prominent naysayers have no choice but to admit the obvious: He helped to spearhead one of the greatest revolutions in modern history by turning the inaccessible computer technology of the 1970s into an invaluable and easy-to-use tool for the masses, while also providing jobs and wealth to many along the way.
Gates has consistently been ranked as one of the world 's wealthiest men—as well as one of the most controversial founders and CEOs in history—and businesspeople of all stripes have taken their cues from him, using his words and business strategies to help create and grow their own companies. And in contrast to his hard-nosed reputation, after he left running the day-to-day operations of Microsoft in 2008 to devote himself full-time to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a kinder, gentler side began to emerge. As a result, people who are actively involved in their own philanthropic efforts, whether in a professional or part-time capacity, have begun to take a second look at the man.
Despite the fact that he's no longer at the helm of one of the world's most powerful companies, Gates has steadfastly remained in the news. His friendship and philanthropic partnerships with U2's Bono and investing titan Warren Buffett attract the attention of both the media and public, which only helps to gain more attention for his charitable acts, whether he is testifying with former President Bill Clinton about increasing federal aid to earthquake-ravaged cities and villages in Haiti, or making the rounds at the Sundance Film Festival to promote the topic of public education reform. And unlike Gates's days at Microsoft, where he was entrusted with protecting a bevy of corporate secrets, today his life is virtually an open book, featuring regular updates on Facebook and Twitter and blog posts at TheGatesNotes.com.
Bill Gates's second act is no less compelling than his first. Anyone interested in his personal life or looking for inspiration to drive forward his or her own business endeavors can find enlightenment through reading Gates's own words.
"If a kid if addicted to a personal computer, I think that's far better than watching TV, because at least his mind is making choices."
Programmers at Work, 1986
"Computers are great because when you're working with them you get immediate results that let you know if your program works. It's feedback you don't get from many other things."
The Road Ahead, 1995
"I've never done anything solo, except take tests."
Working Together, 2010
"I think short of the transporter, most things you see in science fiction are, in the next decade, the kinds of things you'll see. The virtual presence, the virtual worlds that both represent what's going on in the real world and represent whatever people are interested in. This movement in space as a way of interacting with the machine. I think the deep investments that have been made at the research level will pay off with these things in the next 10 years."
D5 Conference: All Things Digital, May 30, 2007
"If being a nerd means you're somebody who can enjoy exploring a computer for hours and hours late into the night, then the description fits me, and I don't think there's anything pejorative about it. But here's the real test: I've never used a pocket protector, so I can't really be a nerd, can I?"
The New York Times Syndicate and News Service, August 5, 1996
"I devote maybe ten percent to business thinking. Business isn't that complicated. I wouldn't want to put it on my business card. [I'm a] scientist. Unless I've been fooling myself. When I read about great scientists like, say, Crick and Watson and how they discovered DNA, I get a lot of pleasure. Stories of business success don't interest me in the same way. Say you added two years to my life and let me go to business school. I don't think I would have done a better job at Microsoft."
Playboy, July 1994
"Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning."
Time, January 13, 1997
"There are one hundred universities making contributions to robotics. And each one is saying that the other is doing it all wrong."
The World Is Flat, 2005
"Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity, reducing inequity is the highest human achievement."
Commencement address, Harvard University, June 7, 2007
"Smartness is an ability to absorb new facts. To walk into a situation, have something explained to you, and immediately say, "Well, what about this?" To ask an insightful question. To absorb it in real time. A capacity to remember. To relate to domains that may not seem connected at first."
The Rich and How They Got That Way, 2001
"Everybody should watch chemistry lectures—they're far better than you think. Don Sadoway, MIT—best chemistry lessons everywhere. Unbelievable."
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 23, 2008 Follow Scientific American on Twitter @SciAm and @SciamBlogs. Visit ScientificAmerican.com for the latest in science, health and technology news.
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