Voices Sheila Kumar Rajat Chaudhuri Kiran Nadar Ravi Shankar Anuja Chandramouli Mata Amritanandamayi MAGAZINE Buffet People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment NEW DELHI may 30 2021 SUNDAY PAGES 12 Showing the Gates The surprise divorce of Bill Gates and wife Melinda exposes a marriage fraught with infidelity and derision. What is the future of the powerful Foundation they head? The Gates Group: (Clockwise from top) Celebrity financier Jeffrey Epstein; money manager Michael Larson; venture capitalist and former girlfriend Ann Winblad Melinda Gates Bill Gates By Ravi Shankar T here is the public Bill Gates with the nerdy glasses, tousled hair, goofy smile and a wedding ring on his finger, guzzling Coke while spending billions to rid the world of disease and poverty. In private, the emerging profile of the world’s most influential and powerful technology shaper of the 20th century is a man possessed by hubris and owner of ‘a roving eye’—as The New York Times reported his predilection—who demoralised colleagues, dissed his wife, conspired against his business partner and seduced colleagues. The foundation of marriage has crumbled under Bill and Melinda Gates, though there is no chance of the Foundation crumbling for now; until early last week the 65-year-old Gates had not taken off his wedding ring when seen leaving the Greenwich Hotel in Manhattan’s West Village neighbourhood. So what happened to one of the coziest hand-holdingin-public romantic marriages of the tech era? The Gateses were experts at social image management, backed by a formidable corporate PR machine. Money buys protection. Billions are armour. The chink in Bill Gates’s armour is womanising. In 2019, Microsoft’s board of directors that included Gates investigated an incident in which the billionaire “sought to initiate an intimate relationship with a company employee in the year 2000,” according to Microsoft spokesman Frank X Shaw. A law firm was brought in to investigate the matter. The following year, Gates quit Microsoft’s board. His spokeswoman Bridgitt Arnold told media, “There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably,” and that “Gates’s decision to transition off the board was in no way related to it.” What is the truth? AN UNSAVORY CONNECTION The Gateses have not provided the public with reasons for breaking up. The tipping point for the biggest divorce after Amazon owner Jeff Bezos split from his now ex-wife, the American novelist MacKenzie Scott, is said to be Gates’s friendship with shady celebrity financier Jeffrey Epstein, whom the Microsoft guru met in 2011. Epstein was jailed for sex-trafficking of girls and pleaded guilty to soliciting prostitution from a minor. Epstein, who died in mysterious circumstances in a federal jail later, led a jet-set life of sexual profligacy and exploitation of underage girls; his friends The Gateses have not provided the public with reasons for breaking up. The tipping point for the biggest divorce since Amazon owner Jeff Bezos split from his wife, is said to be Gates’s friendship with shady celebrity financier Jeffrey Epstein, whom he met in 2011. included Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew. The Gateses met Epstein at a late-night party at his Manhattan townhouse. “His lifestyle is very different and kind of intriguing, although it would not work for me,” Gates had written in an email to colleagues, soon afterwards. But he flew in Epstein’s private jet lasciviously nicknamed Lolita Express. Melinda French (Melinda’s maiden name) was reportedly uneasy with her husband’s proximity with a proclaimed sex offender. Gates ignored her advice and two men continued to meet. The papers reported that Gates had even spoken to Epstein about being in an unhappy marriage. Soon the Microsoft founder distanced himself from the shady financier after the latter untruthfully claimed to be his investment advisor. Though there is no evidence of any wrongdoing, a disgusted Melinda hired divorce lawyers in October 2019 after the relationship between Gates and Epstein became embarrassingly public. Though she has not spoken in public about Epstein, Melinda reportedly “decided that it was best for her to leave her marriage as she moved into the next phase of her life.” THE OTHER WOMAN The press has been speculating about other reasons. One theory concerns Gates’s continued relationship with ex-girlfriend and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ann Winblad; they had broken up in 1987. Details of this somewhat unconventional relationship emerged in 1997 in an article written by Walter Isaacson in Time magazine. The tech mogul and Winblad met in 1984 for the first time at a computer conference. They started going on “virtual dates”— going to the same movie at the same time but in different cities and discussing it on their cellphones as if it was a physical conversation. Winblad persuaded him to stop eating meat, but not for long. Isaacson called them kindred minds and spirits. Gates told him, “When I was off on my own thinking about marrying Melinda, I called Ann and asked for her approval.” She gave it. Even after the Gateses were married, Gates and Winblad had been taking a yearly weekend vacation together for over a decade at her beach cottage in North Carolina. They would ride dune buggies, hang-glide and walk on the beach. “We can play putt-putt while discussing biotechnology Gates told ,” Isaacson. “We share our thoughts about the world and ourselves,” Winblad reportedly told the journalist. “And we marvel about how, as two young overachievers, we began a great adventure on the fringes of a little-known industry and it landed us at the centre of an amazing universe.” THE LADIES MAN Gates’s universe has always starred beautiful woman. According to his biographer James Wallace, the billionaire’s youth was raunchy and wild. Wallace claimed that Gates would hire strippers for naked parties in his Seattle home. Bill was “no choir boy”, he told Daily Mail. The young Gates would visit some all-nude nightclubs in town and hire the dancers to swim naked with his friends in his indoor pool. “The rich and influential carry a false sense of supremacy because they are surrounded by people who idolise them. This makes them think they can do anything without facing consequences. They are also prolific risk-takers,” observes Mumbai-based life coach Sheetal Shaparia. A regrettable victim of the Gates scandal is former air Delta hostess Zhe ‘Shelly’ Wang, a 36-year-old interpreter who worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “I thought that the rumours would go away by themselves. I did not expect them to become more and more crazily spread,” she wrote on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo. In virus-obsessed America, conspiracy theorists soon saw the Chinese hand in Microsoft. Much before 2019, Gates’s indiscretions at work had reached Melinda’s ears. It is being reported that in 2006, Gates emailed a female employee after a presentation for a dinner date. The general consensus is that he is not a smooth operator and has cheesy pick-up lines. The New York Times quoted his email to the woman: “If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened.” Subsequently, the billionaire reportedly propositioned a Foundation employee on an official trip. The woman, whose name has been withheld, told a reporter that Gates told her, “I want to see you. Will you have dinner with me?” Both women rejected Gates’s advances. The saving grace was that once rebuffed, the boss never persisted. Shaparia believes, “Being rich attracts ample attention. These men (and women) don’t have to do much to get what they want.” The media has reported employee complaints about an “unhealthy work culture” at the company “The . Microsoft of 2021 is very different from the Microsoft of 2000,” CEO Satya Nadella said in an official statement, “Overall, the power dynamic in the workplace is not something that can be abused in any form, and the most important thing is for us to make sure that everybody is comfortable in being able to raise any issues they see, and for us to be able to fully investigate it.” A COMPLEX MARRIAGE Ironically, it was Gates who wrote the foreword to Nadella’s autobiography Hit Refresh, in 2017. His words were, “As the title of this book implies, [Satya] didn’t completely break with the past—when you hit refresh on your browser, some of Turn to page 2
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