What made Bill Gates so successful and why Microsoft won’t be the same without him12
Matt posted in The Industry, Xbox 360 on June 28th, 2006
If I had to choose one word to describe Bill Gates, it wouldn’t be any of the usual suspects. It wouldn’t be rich, although he is the wealthiest man in the world. It wouldn’t be powerful, although he has shaped the future of computing. It wouldn’t be nerdy, but some may describe him as such. It definitely wouldn’t be evil, although many people think that is the case, and in my Mac loving days, that thought probably crossed my mind. No, the word that I would use is “passionate”. That may seem like a strange choice of words, but in my opinion, it is the best way to describe Bill Gates.
Through the Microsoft intern program, I was fortunate enough to meet Bill Gates. After the internship program is over, Bill Gates hosts a barbecue in his backyard and talks with all the interns. It seems like they mob him and hang onto every word and for good reason – he’s shaped the computer industry and helped make it what it is today. The one thing that really struck me when listening to him speak is his passion for computing. Many people see him or Microsoft as an evil corporation with plans for world domination, but to me, it seemed like passion was driving the company. Bill Gates wants Microsoft to be the best software company not because he needs or wants the money. That’s evident by the fact that he plans to give away his earnings. He wants it to be the best because he’s passionate about making software and because of that, is competitive.
Oftentimes, the most passionate people are the most competitive. If you really love something, you’ll strive to be the best at it that you can, and that’s what Bill Gates has done. I’d really describe him as the “Air Jordan” of computer software. Sure, many complain that Microsoft’s business tactics are bad and all that. I don’t know all the ins and outs of Microsoft’s dealings, but I imagine if you look at other large corporations, you won’t find any angels. I’m not trying to make excuses. Rather I’m just trying to say if you are going to villify Microsoft, be sure to villify all the other guilty parties also. A very good consolation for any Microsoft misdeeds is that Bill Gates is spending his money on his philanthropic organization (which he also spoke very passionately about) rather than building himself a giant castle. That was another thing about the intern BBQ – I was amazed by how modest his house was. I’m sure it cost quite a bit, but for being the world richest man, I was expecting a palace, and it wasn’t all that large. He only had two cars, a daily driver (Lexus) and a rare Porsche. I’m still the Porsche cost quite a bit, but I imagine it’s a lot cheaper than the fleets of fancy cars other successful people have.
I think Bill Gates passion for software is what really drove the company to success. Microsoft is a company that has made software for quite a while, and regardless of how you feel about any particular piece of software, all of the products are at least competitive in quality to their rivals if not better. I’m writing this inside OpenOffice, and I’d say that OpenOffice is a poor substitute for Microsoft Word. Without Gates’ passion, I don’t think Microsoft will be the same. If Microsoft weren’t trying to be the “best” – weren’t trying to outdo all its rivals – then the products might stagnate. One might say Internet Explorer was victim of that until Opera and Firefox started gaining popularity (although, I wouldn’t say it’s as clear cut because I ended up sticking with IE after using both since I don’t find all the new features that other browsers offer all that useful). If someone with less passion about making the best product is in charge of the company, they might stick with their leading advantage and no longer innovate. Even though Microsoft has a huge advantage in many fields, the computer industry is so competitive that someone else would rise to beat their product. That’s why Microsoft Research is an important division of the company. I remember when everyone used Yahoo! to search. Yahoo! was happy with their success and branched into magazines and all sorts of other stuff, but then Google came out of nowhere and became the search engine of choice for pretty much everyone. Microsoft is trying to take Google on in the search arena, but MSN search has yet to dethrone Google, but if Google quits innovating (and I haven’t seen the search part of Google get any better recently), Microsoft or some other company could best them in that regard.
Bill Gates’ passion for technology has led Microsoft to be the most successful software company. In my opinion, no one else has that level of passion, so no one else will be able to fill his shoes successfully. Right now is a scary time for Microsoft. Personal computers are becoming less and less important as consumer electronics gain ground. Things that people used to do on PCs, they are now doing on ipods, cell phones, Blackberries, Palms and Playstations. The desktop is becoming less important and new platforms are emerging: pocket devices used for communication (like cell phones and PDAs), and the entertainment PCs in the living room (what used to be game consoles, but are expanding to be more and more multimedia devices). Microsoft is the king of the desktop and may always be, but what happens if the desktop decreases in popularity? Bill Gates has led the company to great success, so I would think in this uncertain time for Microsoft, I’d think his guidance would be the most important. But on the flip side, maybe his passion (and money) focused on world health is much more helpful anyway. I can only hope that his passionate drive can achieve the same kind of successes for world health that he did for personal computing.