by Michael Friedenberg

Thank You, Bill

Feb 06, 20082 mins

As Bill Gates nears retirement, we consider his legacy.

Bill Gates will officially retire from Microsoft in July. In the intervening months, a lot will be written about him, his legacy and the company he built into one of the most powerful, innovative and controversial of our time. While many will argue about the nature of the impact Gates has had in the world, no one can dispute that his impact has been enormous.

Founding a company in 1975 that now employs 78,000 people and drives revenue of $51B is remarkable. It has made millions of people wealthy from a monetary and knowledge perspective, made businesses more productive and, until recently, made Gates the wealthiest person in the world.

With the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he and his wife have chosen to give back and help the poor, needy and sick. You might not agree with everything that Microsoft does, or with Gates’s vision for the future of high-tech, but there is no denying that his energy toward improving humanity is awe-inspiring. The values that the Gates Foundation rests upon—that “all lives have equal value” and “to whom much is given, much is expected”—defines what Gates will be spending his time on and why, as he waves goodbye to Microsoft.

Gates now seeks to mesh capitalism with philanthropy. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in late January, he called for businesses to exercise a new form of “creative capitalism.” Capitalism, he said, “is responsible for the incredible innovations that improve lives.” But it only works “on behalf of those who can pay.”

“To provide rapid improvements for the poor,” he said, “we need a system that draws in innovators and businesses.” He acknowledged that profit must be the incentive for business whenever possible (for sustainability) but argued that the benefit of public recognition that “enhances a company’s reputation, appeals to customers and…attracts good people to the organization” is a valid incentive that should help companies invest in serving the very poor.

So while many will argue about, comment on and debate the impact of what Bill Gates has brought to business, the world or humanity, I would rather say, Thank you for everything that you have created, and I wish you success in your new journey. Our world will be a much better place if you accomplish in your new endeavors one percent of what you have already achieved.