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Dallas view | Gates the Andrew Carnegie of our era?
The Dallas Morning News
The editors here made a bad call when they put the story about Bill Gates giving up his daily duties at Microsoft inside the business section of The Dallas Morning News.
Yes, we gave Gates "promos" on the front page of the paper and the business cover. Yes, his departure is a two-year phaseout. And, no, he apparently has no intention of selling his huge holdings in the software giant he created three decades ago with little more than dreams.
But it's a monumental moment when the world's richest man and the guy most responsible for pulling us into the computer age announces that he's casting aside a high-powered job to confront global health and education issues in some of the poorest reaches of Earth.
At a time when corporate shenanigans dominate the headlines, such an honorable mission deserves to be on the front page.
Oddly, the June 16 edition of The News gave better play to the Whole Foods Market announcement that it's going to stop selling live lobsters and crabs. OK, so I read every word of that story, too. But whether lobsters and crabs are sold dead or alive will have no impact on most of our lives.
Gates' decision will.
First of all, the 50-year-old business icon has offered us a textbook case in management transition without turmoil.
As Al Niemi, dean of the school of business at Southern Methodist University, puts it: "When I saw the headlines that he was winding down his day-to-day involvement, I said, 'Geez, I thought that happened four or five years ago.' "
In a way, it did. Gates put the changes in motion in 2000 when he turned over the chief executive reins to Steve Ballmer and started the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Then, in July 2004, Gates confided in Ballmer that he intended to give up his daily duties as chief software architect. The longtime compadres spent the past two years quietly planning life at Microsoft post-Gates.
The perceived lack of such initiatives has troubled investors. Microsoft stock has fallen $6 from a high of $28 and change last year, the second-worst performer this year in the Dow Jones industrial average.
The market showed little reaction to Gates' announcement — undoubtedly comforted by his assurances that he plans to remain Microsoft's largest shareholder, with a stake currently valued at about $22 billion — nearly half of his estimated $50 billion net worth.
The market figures Gates, who will stay chairman, won't distance himself much further than he already has.
Brian Bruce, chief equity investment officer of PanAgora Asset Management, a $20 billion investment fund in Boston, says the lack of angst over Gates' announcement is remarkable.
Typically, when a company announces big news, 80 percent of the analysts who cover the stock issue recommendations within 24 hours.
But of the 31 Wall Street analysts who follow Microsoft, only three have written about Gates' phaseout, and only one has lowered his forecast.
But the true importance of Gates' announcement is the new bar it sets for personal commitment and giving back.
Dallas entrepreneur Bob Buford, author of business bestsellers Halftime and Finishing Well, is an authority on the phenomenon of executives seeking personal fulfillment after business success.
This, he says, is a watershed event.
"... You're seeing the richest man in the world invest his most valuable asset, which is not his money but his genius at solving problems," Buford says.
"It's highly likely that Bill Gates will be the Andrew Carnegie or John Rockefeller of our time. There hasn't really been anybody in between to change the nature of philanthropy. This does."
Gates has said he didn't realize when he started the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 what impact it could have on the world's greatest problems. Bill Gates wants to change our universe — again. And most of us believe he will.
Working part time, he created the world's largest philanthropic group, with assets of nearly $30 billion and destined to get billions more from Gates' friend, Warren Buffett.
Imagine what he'll achieve full time.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company