Bill Gates is the second-richest person in the world, but according to the Microsoft co-founder, his "superpowers" have nothing to do with making billions of dollars.
Gates sat down with Devin Thorpe, a Forbes contributor and host of the "Your Mark on the World" podcast, for an interview in May, in which Thorpe asked the billionaire which of his own traits Gates would describe as his "superpower." In his response, Gates didn't tout his abilities as a software developer, or as the co-founder of one of the world's largest companies.
What did he say? His optimism and his ability to put together great teams.
"If I have [a superpower], it has something to do with optimism about scientific innovation," Gates told Thorpe. The billionaire recently put that optimism on display in a recent lecture at the University of Cambridge, in which Gates predicted that investment in scientific innovations will result in the end of global malnutrition and the eradication of malaria by 2040.
He also named "being able to gather teams of people" as another of his "superpowers" in relation to his work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where Gates and his wife oversee teams of strategists, researchers and other partners working on issues ranging from global poverty and malnutrition to working to eradicate diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS. (The foundation has nearly 1,500 employees around the world and an endowment of more than $46 billion.)
Gates' team-building skills evolved during his time at Microsoft, where he was "assembling teams of engineers and understanding what was on track/off track, being patient for things that, in that case, usually took five or six years," he tells Thorpe about the process of shepherding software projects to completion at the company he co-founded in 1975 and helped grow into a trillion-dollar business.
However, projects "in the world of medicine" that he's currently focused on with the Gates Foundation, Gates says, often take decades, which can require nearly superhuman patience.
"The HIV vaccine — between when people started working on it and when we'll finally have one — that will have been almost 25 years," Gates said in the interview. "So the patience required, the need to have multiple strategies, so it's there in pushing for innovations."
In the past, Gates has predicted that an HIV vaccine will be available by 2030, and the Gates Foundation has committed more than $3 billion to HIV grants to organizations fighting the virus around the world.
Gates also noted his ability to put to use the extensive resources he's "lucky enough to have," both from his own personal fortune (which Forbes estimates at $96.5 billion), as well as the resources committed to the Gates Foundation by donors like fellow billionaire Warren Buffett, Gates told Thorpe in the interview. "Thank goodness it's allowed us to be ambitious."
Gates has previously pointed other superpowers he wished he possessed. In his 2016 annual letter published on the GatesNotes blog, Gates wrote that he and his wife had been asked by a group of Kentucky high school students about which superpowers the couple would choose if they had the opportunity.
"Trying to keep up with our foundation work and our three children's schedules, we gave responses that will be immediately familiar to other parents," Gates wrote at the time. "'More time! More energy!'"
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