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Bill Gates is one of the richest men in the world. He’s also changed the way we live and work. Gates started Microsoft more than three decades ago, with the goal of bringing computers into everyone’s home and onto everyone’s desk. These days, he’s more focused on giving his wealth away.
Here’s a look at his life from teenage whiz kid to self-made billionaire to philanthropist.
By Michelle Fox
Posted 12 January 2012
Born in October 1955, Bill Gates grew up in Seattle with his parents, William and Mary Gates and two sisters. He attended public elementary school and the private Lakeside School, where he discovered his interest in software. He was just 13 when he began programming the computer at the school and was excused from math class to pursue his interest. The teletype machine was purchased with money raised by the students’ mothers during a rummage sale.
Gates soon became known as a computer expert in high school, and was part of a group of students who were trying to master the machine. Among them was Paul Allen, who later co-founded Microsoft with Gates.
“It was an addiction almost for him and a few others,” his father, William Gates II, told the BBC. “They spent all [their] time in that little lab building where the computer was located.”
While in high school, Gates wrote a tic-tac-toe program that allowed users to play against the computer. At 15, he and Allen made $20,000 after developing a computer program that monitored traffic patterns in Seattle. Gates graduated from Lakeside School in 1973, and got a 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT test.
Gates was attending Harvard in 1975 when childhood friend Paul Allen showed up with a magazine featuring a mail-order computer kit. The two wrote a program for the new computer — the MITS Altair — without ever having seen one. Allen flew to New Mexico the next day to show the program to the manufacturers, who were impressed and made the team an offer.
Gates dropped out of Harvard and he and Allen opened Microsoft’s first office, in Albuquerque, N.M.
In 1981, Bill Gates and Paul Allen hit it big when IBM used Microsoft’s 16-bit operating system, MS-DOS 1.0, in its new personal computer. Sales of the computer took off, and soon other manufacturers entered the market. Since Microsoft’s deal with IBM wasn’t exclusive, all those new computer-makers became potential clients.
In 1985, Windows 1.0 was released, allowing users to use a mouse to point and click their way through screens instead of typing MS-DOS commands.
After a decade as a private company, Microsoft went public on March 14, 1986. The initial public offering price was $21 per share. The stock jumped 32.14 percent in its first day of trading, closing at $27.75.
The company subsequently grew into one of the world’s most valuable companies, with a $236.4 billion market cap. There are now 6.4 billion shares held of the tech giant.
Bill Gates was officially declared a billionaire in Forbes’ 400 Riches People in America issue in 1987. At the time, he was worth $1.25 billion — $900 million more than the previous year. He was just 32 at the time, making him the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.
Gates has said he is “lucky” he doesn’t have to worry about money. He told the BBC, “Having a job where you work as hard as I do, it’s fun, it’s hectic. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone … and it’s not because of the number, it’s because of the day-to-day activity I love. "
In 1994, Bill Gates married Melinda French, a Microsoft employee who worked in the development of its multimedia products. The couple exchanged vows on the island of Lanai, the smallest in the Hawaiian chain located nine miles off the coast of Maui.
To ensure privacy, Gates booked all the available rooms at the 250-room Manele Bay Hotel, now a Four Seasons Resort, where the wedding party was staying. He also reportedly hired all the helicopters on Maui to keep photographers away. Paul Allen and billionaire Warren Buffett were among the invited guests.
In 1994, Bill and Melinda Gates formed the William H. Gates Foundation to give away their wealth to those in need in the United States and internationally. The focus of the foundation is to enhance health care, reduce extreme poverty and ensure that those with fewer resources have access to opportunities to succeed in life.
The foundation, now called the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, began with an initial stock gift of $94 billion and has committed more than $26 billion in grants since its inception.
“This wealth, we’ve chosen not to pass it to our children, or buy all sorts of mansions or whatever. We’re getting it back to society in a way that can have the most positive impact,” Bill Gates told the BBC.
Bill Gates and Microsoft went all out when they launched Windows 95 at a big party at the company’s Redmond, Wash., campus. Most notably, the fanfare included television commercials featuring the Rolling Stone’s singing “Start Me Up.” Microsoft sold 7 million copies in the first five weeks.
In 1998, Microsoft found itself at the center of a courtroom battle, with Bill Gates as the star witness, after the U.S. Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against the tech giant. Microsoft was accused of trying to compel computer manufacturers to include Microsoft’s web browser, Internet Explorer, on computers loaded with Windows 95.
In 2000, a judge ruled against Microsoft, stating the company holds a monopoly in the market and should be split into two companies. However, Microsoft appealed and in 2001, the U.S. government decided to drop its demand to split the company.
More than three decades after dropping out of college, Bill Gates returned to Harvard in June 2007 to receive an honorary degree. He also delivered the commencement speech and challenged the graduates to combat the world’s most pressing problems.
“I hope you will come back here to Harvard 30 years from now and reflect on what you have done with your talent and your energy,” Gates told the graduates. “I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you have addressed the world’s deepest inequities... [and] on how well you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity.”
In 2008, Gates transitioned from his day-to-day role at Microsoft to working full time at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates, who had already handed the CEO job over to Steve Ballmer in 2000, remains Microsoft chairman. As co-chairman of the foundation, he helps set the direction of the organization, shapes and approves grant-making strategies and acts as an advocate for the foundation’s issues.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation now employs almost 1,000 people and supports grantees in all 50 states and more than 100 countries.
In an effort to persuade other wealthy individuals and families to give a majority of their fortunes to charity, Bill Gates and his long-time friend and fellow billionaire Warren Buffett teamed up in 2010 to create the Giving Pledge.
Focused on billionaires, the pledge simply asks those who want to donate to make a public statement, along with a letter explaining their decision. Not wanting to limit their efforts to the U.S., the pair traveled to China that year and to India in 2011. Gates told CNBC he enjoyed the road trip with his friend.
“It’s fun to talk about how the world works, it is different from the U.S. and it’s interesting to share notes,” Gates said. “The philanthropy discussion is amazing and China in its own way is moving towards that.”