When Bill and Melinda Gates first met back in 1987, they were at very different points in their lives. Bill was the CEO of Microsoft, after all, while Melinda was several rungs down the ladder at the technology company, just embarking on the first few steps of her career. But this didn’t stop the pair from hitting it off.
After dating for seven years, Bill and Melinda became husband and wife in 1994. And throughout the couple’s relationship, they have enjoyed unbridled success with both Microsoft and their eponymous charitable foundation. Indeed, it’s a journey that has seen them become one of the wealthiest pairings in the world – but also one of the most generous.
But of course, Bill and Melinda’s achievements stretch far beyond the professional world. The couple have been married for more than 25 years, after all, and they share three children, who they’ve tried to raise to be as grounded as possible. And so, it’s hardly a surprise that over the years, many have tried to uncover the secret to the Gates’ harmonious existence. But it seems that the answer to their success is actually quite simple.
Back in 1987, Bill and Melinda’s relationship started out as an office romance. Melinda, for her part, had joined Microsoft the year before as a marketing manager. She was a recent graduate of Duke University, where she’d studied computer science and economics.
Then, four months after Melinda joined Microsoft, she had a fateful meeting with the company’s CEO: Bill. The pair sat beside each other at a business dinner in New York City. And Melinda found herself surprisingly charmed by the computer whizz and entrepreneur, who that year would make his debut on Forbes’ list of the richest people in the world.
Years later, in 2008, Melinda described her first impressions of Bill to U.K. newspaper The Independent. She remarked, “He was funnier than I expected him to be.” And it seems that Melinda made an impression on Bill too, because a few months after their initial meeting, he invited her out on a date.
However, at first, Bill’s lack of spontaneity didn’t impress Melinda. That’s because he’d tried to schedule their first meet-up a couple of weeks in advance. And as a result, Melinda told Bill to invite her out again closer to the time. But the businessman surprised her with a call that same night instead, and the rest – as they say – is history.
Revealing what had attracted her to Bill, Melinda told Forbes in 2015, “When I look back, Bill was the same kind of guy I was hanging out with in college. I had a lot of respect for [him], and [he] had respect for me. I was definitely attracted to his brilliant mind – but beyond that, his curiosity. And he has a huge sense of fun. I love that wry side of him.”
Bill and Melinda tied the knot at a hotel in Hawaii on New Year’s Day 1994. And soon after their nuptials, the couple embarked on a shared passion for philanthropy. That same year, in fact, they launched the William H. Gates Foundation, which aimed to provide laptops to schools across the United States.
However, Bill and Melinda’s interest in helping people extended far beyond U.S. borders. Shortly after their wedding, for instance, Melinda was reading an article in The New York Times about young people in poorer parts of the world who had had their lives cut short by illnesses such as TB and malaria. And as a result, Melinda and Bill decided to make tackling global poverty their main philanthropic priority.
In fact, it was with this aim in mind that the couple established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the year 2000. Across the world, the organization strives to improve health services and decrease poverty. In the U.S., meanwhile, it funds educational programs for the purpose of increasing access to information technology.
Amazingly, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is now the biggest transparently operated private organization of its kind on the planet. The foundation’s endowment is currently over $42 billion, in fact. And much of this money has come directly from Microsoft as well as through donations and grants.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website highlights the philosophy of the organization. “All lives have equal value,” the large message on the homepage reads. “We are impatient optimists working to reduce inequity.” And with a healthcare budget reportedly larger than that of the World Health Organization, according to World Atlas, the foundation is certainly in a position to make positive changes across the globe.
Incredibly, as of 2015 the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had gifted nearly $33 billion to health-related projects around the world. One of the organization’s primary aims is to reduce the health deficit between wealthy and poorer nations. And to achieve this, the foundation has a firm focus on the elimination of polio and malaria and the control of HIV and tuberculosis.
In fact, it is partly because of work by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that malaria has been eradicated in four nations since the start of the 21st century. Between 2000 and 2015, moreover, deaths caused by the disease have decreased by around 42 percent. And in 2014 Bill said that malaria could be eradicated altogether within a generation.
What’s more, in 2014 India announced that it had eradicated polio thanks to a joint vaccination effort by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International and the Indian government. Remarkably, just half a decade prior to this, the country accounted for over 50 percent of the planet’s polio cases. And following this amazing achievement, the Gates’ organization set its sights on eliminating the disease worldwide.
With all this considered, Bill and Melinda’s achievements in the global health sector alone would be impressive. But of course, there’s also the enormous success that they’ve enjoyed with Microsoft over the years to take into account. The technology giant, which Bill and his co-founder, Paul Allen, established in 1975, rose to dominate the PC operating system market in the middle of the 1980s.
Incredibly, after Microsoft went public in 1986, the rise in its share price went on to generate a trio of billionaires – including Bill – and around 12,000 millionaires among the company’s staff. As of 2016 the business has the largest revenue of any software producer and one of the highest values of any company on the planet.
Of course, the success of Microsoft reflected back on Bill as the company’s co-founder. Between the years of 1995 and 2017, he came top of Forbes’ annual rich list on all but four occasions. And in 2017 Bill’s net worth totaled nearly $90 billion. However, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos overtook him that same year and still holds the title of the world’s wealthiest man.
For his part, Bill left his position as Microsoft CEO in 2000. However, he was still the business’ chairman and head software architect. In 2006 Bill revealed that he would be reducing his hours at Microsoft in order to take up full-time work at his and Melinda’s foundation. Then, in 2014, he gave up the Microsoft chairman post to become a technology adviser to the company.
And even amid all of Bill and Melinda’s various commitments, they have still managed to find time for a family. They saw the birth of their first daughter, Jennifer Katharine Gates, in 1996. A son called Rory John Gates followed in 1999, and three years later the couple had another girl named Phoebe Adele Gates. The family live in their large home – known as Xanadu 2.0 – which is located in the hills above Lake Washington in Medina, Washington.
Despite Bill and Melinda’s considerable wealth, business commitments and philanthropic endeavors, they have apparently tried to raise their children to be as well-rounded as possible. And this began with a proactive approach to parenting fronted by Melinda. Indeed, she left her high-flying job at Microsoft to become a hands-on mom after discovering that she was carrying her first baby.
The announcement reportedly surprised Bill, but Melinda wanted to prioritize being a full-time carer to her children. She told Business Insider in April 2019, “I don’t know exactly where it came from. When I was growing up, a lot of the women in my neighborhood in Dallas, Texas, didn’t work. I didn’t see that many women working, so I just assumed I would stay home and take care of the kids.”
With Bill busy running Microsoft, Melinda considered it her duty to stay home and pass on the couple’s shared values to their children. However, once Melinda felt that she had imparted her beliefs onto her kids, she considered taking up work again. And knowing how much his wife enjoyed using her talents, Bill encouraged Melinda to follow her passions.
Consequently, Melinda took up a number of roles, including acting as a board member for Duke University, The Washington Post and Drugstore.com. However, she eventually quit most of her commitments to focus on her humanitarian work – particularly through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And during this period, Bill apparently took up his fair share of the household and child-rearing tasks.
One particular parental duty in which Bill partook was driving his kids to school – something that he began doing when his oldest child started kindergarten. And even though at this time, Bill’s schedule was still jam-packed as the CEO of Microsoft, he completed the drop-off twice a week.
Revealing her husband’s attitude to the chore, Melinda told Business Insider, “Bill and the kids cherished those moments in the car: listening to music together, the conversations over many years that they had. It’s a side of him that they might not have seen otherwise. It would’ve been a missed opportunity.”
What’s more, it seems as though Bill’s efforts as a dutiful dad inspired other men to be more proactive parents, too. Melinda revealed, you see, that after a few weeks of her husband making the school run, she started noticing more and more fathers taking their kids to school.
In Melinda’s interview with Business Insider, she revealed exactly what some of the moms at her oldest daughter’s school had told her. Apparently, they had said, “We went home and we told our husbands, ‘If Bill Gates, who’s the CEO of Microsoft right now, can drive his kid to school, so can you!’” And it seems they did.
But the school run was just one chore that Bill and Melinda have split over the years. And according to Melinda, it’s this equal division of “unpaid labor” – meaning the everyday running of the household – that has given her marriage its longevity. That’s right: apparently, the secret to their strong relationship lies in their willingness to wash dishes together.
In fact, in the Gates household, clearing up after dinner is now often a family affair. Melinda admitted that she was “lucky” to have access to help and childcare. However, she also told Business Insider, “There are still things we do in our home that I wanted to make sure we did as parents and that our kids participated in so they would know what it was to grow up and have responsibilities.”
What’s more, Melinda revealed exactly why doing the dishes had become one of her family’s shared chores. She told Business Insider, “One night I realized I was still in the kitchen a good ten, 15 minutes after everybody else doing the last-minute things. Sometimes in the moment my frustration or anger just comes out.”
Melinda added, “So, one night we stood up after dinner, and people in the family started to melt away – like, off they go upstairs. So, hand on my hips, I’m like, ‘Nobody leaves the kitchen until I leave the kitchen!’ What happens is that last 15 minutes gets divvied up really fast. And then five minutes later we all go upstairs.”
Revealing why the dish-washing incident had been an epiphany for her, Melinda said, “I think we just have to sometimes name these extra invisible things that people don’t even see that we do as women.” Yes, to her, it was clear that the female members of each household are the ones that tend to partake in most of the unpaid labor that she was so eager to share.
Melinda elaborated to Business Insider, saying, “One thing in society we have put on women is we don’t talk about how difficult it is to raise children – how much time it takes. We don’t even talk about things like breastfeeding. We just assume women are going to go do it. It takes time, and it takes energy, right?”
Plus, Melinda said that it’s important to reconsider what we think of as “productive work.” She told Business Insider, “We never looked at the unpaid labor, which predominantly women do at home. And I think it’s time we changed that and have the real conversation about this 90 minutes extra of work that women do at home in the United States.”
Melinda was referring, in fact, to research conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). According to the 2014 study, women complete around 242 minutes of unpaid tasks daily, while their male counterparts get away with just 148 minutes. And this, Melinda explained, works out to a whopping seven years of this sort of labor for a woman in her lifetime.
Commenting on this reported gender disparity when it comes to unpaid labor, Melinda claimed that the extra work required of women prevented them from flourishing in other ways. She told Business Insider, “I don’t know about you, but I think you and I could probably go and get a couple of graduate degrees and a Ph.D. in seven years.”
It’s perhaps hardly a surprise, then, that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is committed to making girls and women priorities when it comes to investment. And for the time being, the founding couple continue to strive for gender equality within their own marriage. Indeed, Melinda told Forbes in 2015, “We certainly weren’t working as equals when we started together.”
Melinda added, “I was down several levels at Microsoft, and [Bill] was the CEO. We’ve had to change to really be coequals. It’s not something that immediately happens overnight, but we’re both committed to it. We needed to talk behind the scenes when it wasn’t working. But I think that’s come now.”