Today marks Bill Gates' last day in his office digs at Microsoft. And while he will continue on as advisor and Board Convener (if we can add EVOO to the lexicon because Rachael Frelling Ray uses it over an over and over, we can come up with gender-neutral language), he'll focus his energies on his foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
A Computer in Every Home
Gates et al (see the picture of the original 11 Microsoft employees) didn't create the personal computer. However, their efforts were energized by their commitment to have a PC in every home. Mr. Gates wanted to facilitate communication between computers so that they spoke a common language and could easily pass information from one computer to another. Decades later, this vision helped to inspire MIT's One Laptop Per Child project, which seeks to put a computer into the hands of the world's poorest children (see Seymour Papert's groundbreaking Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas).
The Evil Empire
Not so happily, Microsoft was involved in one of the largest anti-trust suits in the nation for its anti-competitive and exclusionary practices. In May 1998, the U.S. Justice Department charged Microsoft with having operating practices that helped it maintain its monopoly in personal computer operating systems and Internet browsing software. This from NPR:
"The evidence presented in court today demonstrates that Microsoft used its
massive monopoly power to harm competition and to harm consumers," said Joel
Klein, head of the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division, outlining the
government's case against the company in 1998.
In the HR world, Microsoft's use of its own recently-downsized staffers to return immediately to work...and do exactly what they'd been doing before, working in temp roles indefinitely, gave us a new term--"Permatemp"--and had HR departments scrambling to create policies to routinely release temps before they set down roots (or expectations) and limit their opportunities for direct hire.
Bill's Second Life
While he's ramping down from his former day job at Microsoft, Mr. Gates will shift his efforts so that he will be spending only one day a week at MS and the bulk of the rest of his time at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on eradicating poverty, illiteracy and diseases such as TB and malaria. And having traveled and consulted in malaria and AIDS riddled parts of southern Africa, I can tell you this: Maslow was right when he said that higher order needs become subsumed by efforts to handle lower order, hide-bound safety needs.
Africa and other parts of the developing world will simply not be able to add their unique contributions to the world if the people have to keep burying their children.
For all the promise and challenge of Mr. Gates' tenure at the helm of Microsoft, his has been a story of vision and passion.