By Bill Murphy Jr.
Another day, and still more evidence that Bill Gates is going to run for president.
The latest proof: His recent media tour, including stops on ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and coming soon–get this–a guest role, playing himself on the sitcom, The Big Bang.
Gates had never been on Ellen before. (She pointed out the last time they’d seen each other was at the White House when President Obama awarded them each the Presidential Medal of Freedom.) And, the last time he did a sitcom appearance like the one that was announced yesterday? That was when he was on Frasier in 2001.
Hmmmm. I wonder why Bill Gates might be taking so many small steps lately, unusual for him and in friendly media environments, to raise his public profile…
Here’s what you need to know–a combination of what we’ve observed Gates doing in the past 10 days or so, along with some of the key things he’s demonstrated after 40 years as an icon of entrepreneurship.
- He has deeply held political beliefs.
And, for the most part, they’re the opposite of President Trump’s. He’s a vocal critic of Trump’s tax overhaul, and also of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, and of the idea of pulling back U.S foreign aid to the developing world.
“There’s a real question now with whether the U.S. takes this less than 1 percent of our budget that saves tens of millions of lives, and whether we don’t prioritize continuing that,” he told Ellen. “It’s a hot debate in terms of whether it’s good for America to be generous and help the rest of the world.”
- He’s put his money where his mouth is.
Gates has donated $40 billion to charity, and he’s the co-founder with Warren Buffett of the Giving Pledge (an association of 158 of the world’s richest billionaires who have pledged to donate at least half of their fortunes).
Who hasn’t he asked to take the pledge? President Trump. He’s met with the president twice, but Gates said recently, “We’ve never had a direct conversation about that. It’s always a voluntary thing, and as I do dinners, I meet with a lot of people but never discussed it with him.”
- He’s talking more about his pre-success days.
One of the most striking parts of the Ellen interview to me was how Gates described the early days at Microsoft, when he’d hired a lot of people who were older than he was and who had families, and said he worried constantly.
“Ii was always worried,” he said in this brief portion of the interview. “I always thought what if we don’t get paid? Will I be able to get the payroll? So, I was always very conservative about the finances.”
- He’s talking about being wealthy.
These days obviously, payroll is not an issue. Gates is the second-wealthiest person in the world, worth more than $90 billion; he’s probably got more money than the combined net worths of everyone who will ever read this article.
Yet, he took the time to make clear that he’s not all that materialistic–despite living in a $125 million mansion. Extravagances he acknowledged: a Porsche, a private plane, and a trampoline room. (“Indoor trampoline,” he said on Ellen. “I recommend it.”)
- He’s softening his image.
Lots of news organizations are focusing on how badly Gates did at host Ellen DeGeneres’s grocery game, in which Gates had to try to guess how much various products cost in supermarkets. It’s a cute segment, and let’s just say Gates clearly hasn’t done his own shopping in a long time.
He “seemed to be in on the joke,” as CNN put it, but these kinds of jokey appearances really don’t seem like Gates’s real comfort zone–and it leads you to wonder why he’s suddenly doing them.
- He practices gratitude and works to embrace optimism.
Each year, Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, release an annual letter about the Gates Foundation and their view of the world. Here’s an excerpt from this year’s letter, which consciously exudes optimism:
The world is healthier and safer than ever. The number of children who die every year has been cut in half since 1990 and keeps going down. The number of mothers who die has also dropped dramatically. So has extreme poverty–declining by nearly half in just 20 years. More children are attending school. The list goes on and on.
But being an optimist isn’t about knowing that life used to be worse. It’s about knowing how life can get better.
- He’s a complete shark.
Here’s what I find most ironic about Gates’s recent media appearances, and the image he’s projected over the past 15 years, as mild-mannered, optimistic philanthropist. It’s that there’s an entire generation now who doesn’t know Gates from his cutthroat business days.
He had a reputation for ruthlessness back then, as I wrote a few years ago, way back when I took him at his then-word that he wasn’t interested in running for president:
It’s funny how perceptions change, but when he was running Microsoft, Gates had a reputation as a difficult, extremely competitive boss. Much like his contemporary Steve Jobs, descriptions of his reaction to employees he disagreed with in meetings were harsh. One described Gates’s criticism as “devastating.”
At the same time though, he took responsibility. During the first five years, when he was overseeing all of the business aspects of the company, he also oversaw (and often rewrote) every line of code in the company’s products. If you’re old enough to have used MS-DOS or the original version of Windows, you’ve used a product Gates helped code.
I really don’t have any inside information into what Gates is thinking, but I do have eyes and ears. I think everything is lined up to make him really think about whether he’s called to challenge President Trump in 2020–and if he’s thinking hard about it, it’s hard to imagine circumstances where he wouldn’t run.