For years, Bill Gates has forged a nerdy, likable public image, largely through his philanthropy.
This persona made him more relatable compared with more outspoken, eccentric billionaires.
But new reports of advances toward employees and links to Jeffrey Epstein indicate a darker side.
For decades, Bill Gates has crafted the public persona of a nerdy but pleasant philanthropist. In contrast with the likes of Tesla's Elon Musk and Twitter's Jack Dorsey, Gates was likable, relatable, nonthreatening.
Gates continued to cultivate this personality - pledging to give away half his wealth through The Giving Pledge and investing heavily in healthcare and addressing the climate crisis through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - as his money multiplied.
But new reports about the tech founder in the wake of his pending divorce from his wife of 27 years offer a less flattering picture of the man. Reports from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal indicate Gates, at times, treated the workplace like a pickup spot, making advances toward women who worked for him.
Several employees told The Times he engaged in "clumsy" and "questionable" workplace behavior. They also said he could be "dismissive" of his wife and overly "dominant" in Gates Foundation meetings, even though the organization was working on several women's-empowerment initiatives.
An 'uncomfortable' workplace
The idea that Gates viewed the workplace as a trawling ground for dates may not come as a surprise, considering the origins of his marriage. Gates met and began dating Melinda French in 1987 after she took a job as a marketing manager at Microsoft.
They met at a work dinner at a conference, and Gates was smitten. He used connections his mother had at Duke University (French's alma mater) to look into French's background, and then, after she repeatedly rebuffed him, finally went on a date. She left the company in 1996, two years after they got married, to focus on raising a family.
For years, their origin story was positioned as a meet-cute, despite the uneven power dynamics.
But that was before the latest reports.
The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported that Microsoft's board hired a law firm to investigate Gates in 2019 over claims he began an affair with a company employee in 2000 - just six years after his wedding.
Unnamed sources told The Journal that the woman in question was an engineer who worked at the company. She was said to have alleged in a letter that she had an affair with Gates for years. The company confirmed the investigation, while a Gates representative acknowledged the affair.
"Microsoft received a concern in the latter half of 2019 that Bill Gates sought to initiate an intimate relationship with a company employee in the year 2000," a Microsoft representative told The Journal.
"A committee of the Board reviewed the concern, aided by an outside law firm to conduct a thorough investigation. Throughout the investigation, Microsoft provided extensive support to the employee who raised the concern," the person added.
A representative for Gates told The Journal that Gates' stepping down from the board in 2020 had nothing to do with the investigation.
"There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably," the representative said, adding that he had "expressed an interest in spending more time on his philanthropy starting several years earlier."
But the revelation of this affair was complemented with reporting from The New York Times, which cited unnamed sources as saying that Gates tried to pursue several women who worked for him.
Employees described two occasions in which they said Gates propositioned women who worked for him. Six current and former employees told the paper that the advances were not predatory but created an odd workplace dynamic.
One of these instances was said to have happened in 2006, when he apparently emailed a female Microsoft employee to ask her out to dinner after a presentation.
"If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened," Gates wrote, according to an email that was read to Times journalists.
Several years later, Gates was said to have pursued a woman who was traveling with him on a trip for the Gates Foundation. The woman, who spoke with The Times anonymously, said she laughed it off but felt uncomfortable.
It's tough to say to what extent Gates' behavior created a permissive attitude toward sexual misconduct at Microsoft. But a 2019 Quartz article revealed stories from multiple women who said they experienced sexual harassment at the organization.
The women's accounts were aired in an email thread that included CEO Satya Nadella and the company's chief legal officer, Brad Smith, as recipients and included allegations of sexist quips made on work trips and one female employee being asked to sit on a coworker's lap during a meeting.
"This thread has pulled the scab off a festering wound. The collective anger and frustration is palpable. A wide audience is now listening. And you know what? I'm good with that," one employee wrote in the email chain verified by Quartz.
A questionable money manager and Epstein links
Earlier this month, The Journal reported that French Gates had been considering a divorce since 2019 after she became upset over Gates' willingness to meet with the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Gates first met Epstein in 2011, three years after Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution, and the two spent time at Epstein's Manhattan townhouse more than once - which was said to have enraged French Gates.
Gates said after Epstein's death that meeting him was "an error in judgment." In a 2019 statement seen by the Financial Times, Gates said he had "entertained Epstein's ideas related to philanthropy" but had given Epstein "an undeserved platform."
The Times also reported that Gates' money manager, Michael Larson, was accused by a woman who worked in a bike shop partially owned by Larson of making unwanted sexual advances toward her.
The Times said Larson and the woman settled the matter in 2018, where she reportedly agreed to sign a nondisclosure agreement for an undisclosed sum.
But French Gates is said to have wanted an independent investigation into Larson.
Larson, who runs Cascade Investment, a firm that handles the couple's multibillion-dollar investment portfolio, has worked for Gates for 30 years.
Gates has not spoken publicly about the newest reporting, but a spokeswoman for him, Bridgitt Arnold, has pushed back.
"It is extremely disappointing that there have been so many untruths published about the cause, the circumstances, and the timeline of Bill Gates' divorce," she told The Times. "The rumors and speculation surrounding Gates' divorce are becoming increasingly absurd, and it's unfortunate that people who have little to no knowledge of the situation are being characterized as 'sources.'"
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