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Bill Gates: He eats Big Macs for lunch and schedules every minute of his day - meet the man worth $80 billion (6343 hits)

By Mary Riddell

With $80 billion, Bill Gates is the world’s richest man. So how does he spend his money? What makes his life worthwhile? And is his a happy marriage? Mary Riddell spends three months with the Microsoft billionaire to find the answers.

Microbes fascinate Bill Gates. On his arrival for a recent meeting with Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, Gates is spotted clutching a book on bacteria, presumably so that he might devour a chapter or two should any lull occur in the conversation.

When we meet shortly afterwards, Gates – though minus scientific tome – has the faintly restless manner of someone who finds micro- organisms more absorbing than some dignitaries and most journalists. Gates and I have met several times, and I think I know his approach. Though unfailingly modest and courteous, he loathes wasting a single second.

When it comes to changing the world, however, no topic is too small to engage his attention, and none too vast. He is, for instance, so intrigued by chickens and their potential to feed the hungry that he recently addressed a conference accompanied by a coop full of the birds.

On the practicalities of rearing poultry, he is vague. ‘I’m very much the product of an urban upbringing. Once, in high school, we went to someone’s farm and had to kill the chickens to eat them. I was like: “This is horrific. Somebody actually has to choke these things. Oh my God! Why am I being asked to do it?” Then, when we were in Africa, somebody sacrificed a goat, and we sat and watched them skin it.’

The world's richest man at 61

More accustomed to the world of corporate bloodletting, Gates allows himself a fastidious shudder at the memory. At almost 61 (his birthday is next week), the founder of Microsoft remains the world’s richest man, whose estimated wealth of about $80bn is a subject of endless fascination to almost everyone apart from him.

Rumpled, bespectacled and unassuming, his sole focus (the odd bridge evening apart) is on eradicating disease and deprivation in countries whose GDPs are frequently dwarfed by his own vast fortune. In the three months that I have followed Gates, speaking to him and his closest advisers, he has criss-crossed the world.

His itinerary has taken him from boardrooms and lecture halls to clinics and laboratories. He has dined with the King of the Zulus, given advice to the President of Ethiopia over a takeaway, met Italian Premier Matteo Renzi in an airport departure lounge and solicited help from France’s President François Hollande.

When Gates rattles the can, even cash-strapped heads of state reach for their wallets. Thirteen billion dollars to replenish The Global Fund – to fight Aids, TB and malaria – was duly pledged, complete with £1.1 billion from Britain, at a conference hosted by Trudeau in Montreal last month.

On Monday, the Gates private jet will touch down in London, where he will spend three days at the annual Grand Challenges forum – launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to showcase and fund the cutting-edge health and development research at which Britain has always excelled.

Gates will appear with celebrities ranging from Sir Richard Branson to the hip-hop artist will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas. He will give a talk at the Science Museum and solicit the views of academics. (‘He loves a wonky dinner,’ says one senior aide.) He will no doubt renew his acquaintance with Priti Patel, International Development Secretary, who is reported to want to limit the foreign aid budget.

Gates on Brexit

When we last spoke, Gates also told me: ‘I am hoping to meet Theresa May.’ (As this article went to press, the meeting had yet to be confirmed.) Regular as his London trips have been, this visit marks a critical moment for the UK and Gates.

“His day is planned for him, in the style of the US president, on a minute-by-minute basis. Every meeting and handshake is timed to the second”

Under prime ministers and chancellors from Blair and Brown to Cameron and Osborne, the door of Number 10 always swung open for him. Post-Brexit, there are fewer certainties. Though studiously nonpartisan on politics, Gates had cautioned strongly against leaving the EU, saying the UK would be ‘a significantly less attractive place’ to do business.

Given that Microsoft, where he is still an adviser, and the Gates Foundation invest heavily in Britain (the latter has $1.1bn tied up in UK-based research), this seemed no empty warning. Where does Brexit leave his relationship with Britain, his ‘best partner in the world’, I asked two days after the vote.

‘Britain has world-class universities. Cambridge is our [Microsoft’s] European research centre. No one is changing their plans overnight. A lot of uncertainty has been created and, in economic [matters], uncertainty always causes people to delay investments. I don’t have a crystal ball. But I can’t say enough good things about the support we’ve had from every British PM.’

Is he impressed by Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary? ‘Well, he certainly is an internationalist. I was a little surprised at the position he took during the [Brexit] campaign.’ When we speak again weeks later, Gates professes himself ‘hopeful…The [vote for Brexit] did create uncertainty, but so far there are positive signs about continuing the strong work.’

Relief that the May Government is committed to maintaining Britain’s £12 billion aid budget at 0.7 per cent of gross national income is laced with a warning against cutting ties with the EU. ‘Our foundation puts a lot of money into [British universities] because they are the best in the world. So obviously we hope the smart people can continue to move back and forth between Europe and the UK. I doubt a mistake will get made,’ says Gates. ‘But obviously the status quo would have been a little simpler.’

An unruffled charmed life?

If Britain needs Gates, then Gates also needs Britain. As he often says, no country bar the United States has been more generous with development aid. In an age when democracy wears thin and the world faces a multitude of threats, the largesse of the rich world cannot be taken for granted by the poor or by philanthropists.

Superficially, Gates’s charmed life seems unruffled. The centre of his universe is a book-lined study in his Seattle mansion, from where he can watch his wife paddling her kayak over Lake Washington. The Gateses enjoy the usual pursuits of the affluent. ‘I play tennis, we take vacations, we ski – a lot of fun things.’

Gates prizes the contentment his long marriage has brought him. The son of a lawyer father and a philanthropist mother, he was a geek entrusted with compiling school timetables on an early computer, before dropping out of Harvard to found his multi- billion company.

Melinda, whom he met at a work function, has been his constant partner in philanthropy, working with him to disperse the Gates billions and to persuade titans such as Warren Buffett and Oprah Winfrey to part with large slices of their own wealth.

Jobs: The trouble with Bill...

Gates was apparently not always so generous. The late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, observed, fairly or not: ‘The trouble with Bill is that he wants to take a nickel out of every dollar that passes through his hand.’ Once an accumulator of money, Gates will now give away up to 99 per cent of his fortune; leaving his children, Jennifer, Rory and Phoebe, only relatively modest bequests. ‘There is no family business,’ he says. ‘My kids will make their own careers.’

“I’m very much the product of an urban upbringing. Once, in high school, we went to someone’s farm and had to kill the chickens to eat them. I was like: “This is horrific. Somebody actually has to choke these things. Oh my God"”

Nonetheless, the Gates brood show signs of following in their parents’ footsteps. ‘My eldest has just finished at Stanford [University]. She’s the one who rides horses a bit.’ (Jennifer Gates is an accomplished show jumper.) ‘Rory has two more years of high school. He’s been in Morocco this summer because he wants to learn more about the country. My youngest has been in Rwanda, teaching in a public school. They’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of international exposure, and they’ve gotten really enthused – particularly about Africa.’

Once, I asked Melinda if hers was really a fairytale marriage. She replied that no relationship was wholly idyllic and that her husband hated her habit of chewing ice cubes. When I tell Gates that his wife was keen to dispel the myth of the perfect marriage, he looks aghast. ‘She was? She never told me.’

Is he difficult to live with? ‘Well, there’s the question of sorting out the calendar. We have so many things to do, and that’s always a challenge. And I’m a night person. If I have a good book, or I’m doing something on the computer, I have a tendency to stay up. I never tell Melinda I’m tired the next day or she’ll say it’s all my fault, but she can often tell. I’ll try to be energetic, and she’ll say, “You stayed up too late again.”’

Gates’s timetable is planned for him, in the style of the US president, on a minute-by- minute basis. Long days are carved into five-minute slices, with every meeting and handshake timed to the second. Where possible, he clings to routine.

Cheeseburgers, Diet Coke and strategy

Joe Cerrell, a managing director of the Gates Foundation, says the hallmarks of a Gates tour include ‘hotel rooms full of Diet Coke. And cheeseburgers for lunch, no matter who you are. If you get the lunchtime slot with Bill, you’re eating burgers. Someone will always be sent to get bags of McDonald’s. I don’t think Melinda lets him have them at home.’

Informal he may be, but Gates is also an uncompromising boss. ‘He can be pretty impatient,’ Cerrell says. ‘With Bill you really do have to know your stuff. It’s like briefing the smartest guy in the room. He can get very frustrated if he thinks his time has been wasted. He’s very funny too – absolutely not arrogant. But our days are pretty structured.’

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/bill-gates-he-eats-big-macs-for-lunch-and-schedules-every-minute/
Posted By: Elynor Moss
Friday, October 21st 2016 at 10:49AM
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