Change is good: thanks and good luck Bill!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008 5:25 AM

Funny how so many of these media stories and blog posts out there focus on Bill Gates leaving Microsoft last week and not nearly as much as dedicating more of his time towards his foundation. I think this is a fantastic move all around… for Microsoft, their customers, the Gates Foundation and the world. I don’t know Bill or never had the chance to meet him or can claim to know him so I won’t say that it’s good for him.

Change is a good thing… it is almost always a good thing in my mind.

Microsoft needs a work over. It’s grown huge and feels pressure from it’s own weight. I love seeing companies like Intuit, Google and Apple frustrate Microsoft because it just fosters more competition… this always is a good thing for business and consumers. Prices come down and we get better and better stuff! Just think… years ago you couldn’t pull up an intersection of an overhead view of a business park before you left on a trip. Now use your mapping engine of choice: Google Maps or Local Live. But to have good change, you need to have a change in the blood too. Is Ozzie the right choice? Only time will tell… but if not, someone else will get a shot. I’m not saying the Bill couldn’t have done it, but new ideas and a fresh perspective only helps. I know how my perspective on Vista and Windows 2008 has been changed a bit after using Apple’s Leopard OS on my Mac (one of the sub-goals of getting a MacBook Pro).

So Bill is now spending most of his time with his wife Melinda at the Gates Foundation. It’s a massive organization that can do tremendous good. Look at their endowment… with Warren Buffett’s contribution of $37B (in 2006 dollars, likely to be worth much more over the life of the gift), is a staggering $67B+ (again, in 2006 dollars). This dwarfs all other foundations such as Carnagie and Ford by a long shot. The Gates Foundation can have an even bigger impact on world health than one country! This man has made such a different in the business community and lives of every day people (and help create a career for me and I suspect 90%+ of my readers). What’s really cool though is how the foundation is run. There have been countless articles about it (my favorite come from Fortune, the Wall Street Journal & Wired), but a few things that stuck with me:

  • First and foremost, Buffett’s gift stipulates the money MUST be spent in Bill & Melinda’s lifetime. No hoarding the money for future things… you’ve got the spend it or give it back/it stops flowing.

  • A vast number of large foundations simply try to exist and not spend their money… 28 of the 30 largest spend less than 5% of their assets!

  • Bill & Melinda personally review every grant request in excess of $40k. But it’s how they do that that is cool. They both do their research, reading and taking notes. Then they go for a long walk without notes, computers or charts and have a conversation about it. The idea: if they can’t have a detailed conversation about it without their notes, they don’t know it well enough to make a call.

  • They don’t try to invent new things. Instead they find things that work but are challenge by scale. For instance if someone has come up with a great educational program that works great for the inner city of some major metro, but only has the resources for 5 schools, they jump in and inject cash to scale it way up.

  • It’s run like a relentless business. Performance is measured just like marketing and products in a for-profit business. If something isn’t performing, it’s nixed.

There is so much more… I just can’t wait to see what things the Gates Foundation tackles. It’s really inspiring and I can see it being so much more rewarding to make a significant difference in the world. Good luck Bill!

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