- For years, Bill Gates has forged a nerdy, likable public image, with his many philanthropic efforts.
- This persona, in contrast with the more outspoken, eccentric billionaires of his time, made him more relatable.
- But his advances toward female employees, his hiring of dubious characters to manage his money, and links to Jeffrey Epstein have revealed a darker side to him.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
For decades, Bill Gates has crafted the public persona of a nerdy but pleasant philanthropist. In contrast with the likes of Tesla's Elon Musk and Twitter's Jack Dorsey, Gates was likable, relatable, non-threatening.
Gates continued to cultivate this personality – pledging to give away half his wealth through The Giving Pledge and investing heavily in healthcare and climate change through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
But new reports about the tech founder in the wake of his pending divorce from his wife of 27 years offer a new, less flattering picture of the man. According to reports from The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, Gates, at times, treated the workplace like a pickup spot, making advances toward women who worked for him.
According to several employees who spoke with The Times, he engaged in what they referred to as "clumsy" and "questionable" workplace behavior. He also, they said, could be "dismissive" of his wife and overly "dominant" in Gates Foundation meetings, despite the fact that the organization was working on several women's empowerment initiatives.
An 'uncomfortable' workplace
That Gates viewed the workplace as a trawling ground for dates should come as no surprise, considering the origins of his marriage. Gates met and began dating Melinda French in 1987 after she took a job as a marketing manager at Microsoft.
They met at a work dinner at a conference, and Gates was smitten. He used connections his mother had at Duke University (French's alma mater) to look into French's background, and then, after she repeatedly rebuffed him, finally acquiesced to a date. She left the company in 1996, two years after they got married, to focus on raising a family.
For years, their origin story was positioned as a meet-cute, despite the problematic power dynamics.
But that was before rumors of Gates' infidelities and his undermining and "dismissive" attitude toward French Gates in the workplace came to light.
The Wall Street Journal revealed on Sunday that Microsoft's board launched an investigation into Gates in 2019, following revelations that he'd had an affair with a company employee in 2000 – just six years after he and Gates wed.
The woman in question was an engineer who worked at the company, according to the Journal. She alleged in a letter that she conducted an affair with Gates for years – sparking an investigation.
"Microsoft received a concern in the latter half of 2019 that Bill Gates sought to initiate an intimate relationship with a company employee in the year 2000," a Microsoft spokesperson told the Journal.
"A committee of the Board reviewed the concern, aided by an outside law firm to conduct a thorough investigation. Throughout the investigation, Microsoft provided extensive support to the employee who raised the concern," the spokesperson added.
A spokesperson for Gates told the WSJ that Gates stepping down from the board in 2020 had nothing to do with the investigation.
"There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably," the spokeswoman said, adding that he had "expressed an interest in spending more time on his philanthropy starting several years earlier."
But the revelation of this affair was not the only advance toward female staff members that Gates attempted, according to The New York Times, which wrote that Gates tried to pursue several women who worked for him.
On two different occasions, The Times wrote, Gates propositioned women who worked for him, according to several employees who spoke with the outlet. Six current and former employees told the paper that while his advances were not predatory, they created an odd dynamic in the workplace.
One of these instances happened in 2006 when he emailed a female Microsoft employee to ask her out to dinner after her presentation.
"If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened," Gates wrote, according to an email that was read to Times journalists.
Several years later, Gates attempted to pursue a woman who was traveling with him on a trip for the Gates Foundation. The woman, who spoke to the Times under anonymity, said that she laughed it off then but that the exchange made her feel uncomfortable.
It's tough to say to what extent Gates' behavior created a permissive attitude toward sexual misconduct at Microsoft. But a 2019 Quartz article revealed stories from multiple women who had experienced sexual harassment at the organization.
The womens' accounts were aired in an email thread that included CEO Satya Nadella and chief legal officer Brad Smith as recipients and included allegations of sexist quips made on work trips and one female employee being asked to sit on a coworker's lap during a meeting.
"This thread has pulled the scab off a festering wound. The collective anger and frustration is palpable. A wide audience is now listening. And you know what? I'm good with that," one employee wrote in the email chain verified by Quartz.
A questionable money manager and Epstein links
Earlier this month, it was reported that Melinda French Gates had been considering a divorce since 2019 after she became upset over Gates' continued relationship with disgraced financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Gates first met Epstein in 2011, three years after Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution, and the two spent time at Epstein's Manhattan townhouse on several occasions – which enraged French Gates.
Gates acknowledged publicly after Epstein's death that meeting him was "an error in judgment." In a 2019 statement seen by the Financial Times, Gates said he had "entertained Epstein's ideas related to philanthropy" but noted that he'd given Epstein "an undeserved platform."
The Times also reported that Gates' money manager, Michael Larson, was accused by a woman who worked in a bike shop partially owned by Larson of making unwanted sexual advances toward her.
The Times noted that Larson and the woman settled the matter in 2018, where she agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement for an undisclosed sum.
But French Gates wanted an independent investigation into Larson.
Larson, who runs Cascade Investment, a firm that handles the couple's multi-billion-dollar investment portfolio, has worked for Gates for 30 years, and as of press time, still does.
Gates has not spoken publicly about these new revelations, but a spokeswoman for him, Bridgitt Arnold, has disputed the claims.
"It is extremely disappointing that there have been so many untruths published about the cause, the circumstances, and the timeline of Bill Gates' divorce," she told the Times. "The rumors and speculation surrounding Gates' divorce are becoming increasingly absurd, and it's unfortunate that people who have little to no knowledge of the situation are being characterized as 'sources.'"