Gates Foundation charts growth course after naming new CEO
Melinda Gates rarely gives interviews, but the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently led the search for a new chief...
Seattle Times business reporter
Melinda Gates rarely gives interviews, but the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently led the search for a new chief executive, part of a more hands-on role she is playing now that her three children are in school. She sat down with Jeff Raikes, the Microsoft president who will join the foundation as CEO in September, to answer questions from The Seattle Times, ranging from his salary to her typical day. Below is an edited transcript.
Q: One criticism of the foundation has been that it's very technology-centric, at the expense of a more broad-based approach. Will a CEO coming from Microsoft reinforce that view?
Gates: That criticism comes from people a little bit not understanding where we've been with the foundation, what we're trying to accomplish.
When you start a mission as broad as what we're trying to do, you have to start with what you're good at. Bill and I both come from technology backgrounds, we both have a fundamental belief that technology delivered to people in [the] developed world, like vaccines, is a miracle technology ... So we started there, because it's our core belief and it's our background, but we always knew we would expand out. It's not that we don't go out to the developing world and see huge problems of poverty and hunger.
Raikes: I would add that while certainly not all my experiences map directly, if you think about my role in the software industry, what Microsoft has done, a great deal of our success has been thinking about the broader system of delivering the technology to the people who can use it.
Microsoft has 750,000 partners ... Similarly, the Gates Foundation has a very large number of grantees who play an extremely important role ... I have been very lucky in that my role wasn't just about writing code. You could do a software product, but then you have to design it for a particular market, you have to know how to get to that market, you have to have the right partners to deliver it.
Q: What's the greatest inequity you've seen with your own eyes?
Raikes: India is perhaps the best example for me because you have such an incredible difference. You stay in these incredibly nice hotels and then you drive along the street and see these people who are sleeping on the streets and just striving to survive. I've had that personal experience in another country and I've had that experience here.
When Tricia [Tricia Raikes, his wife] and I decided to take on the leadership of United Way King County, we weren't going to just do it to raise funds. We were going to immerse ourselves in the mission. I went out on the One Night Count of the homeless in Seattle so I could get a better understanding of what that is like for the people who are homeless, but also for the leaders who are thinking about this challenge.
Q: Is your taking a salary a motivational thing ... because obviously you don't need the money?
Raikes: This is something that Bill and Melinda decided as part of how they wanted to run the foundation. For me, the compensation is a nonissue. It's not something that focuses me or motivates me. I'm here because of the opportunity to do this work.
Tricia and I have been quite clear for some time that our wealth will be invested back into society. We're already doing that via the Raikes Foundation. My compensation, whatever it is, will go back to help others.
Gates: Whoever was going to take this job, we were going to offer them a salary. Patty [Stonesifer, the previous CEO] made a personal choice to not take a salary.
Remember where the foundation was when we started 10 years ago: over a pizza parlor in Redmond ... What we did was take what the other top foundations [pay] and benchmark against those. It seemed like the right thing to do with the place we are today.
Q: Have you given any more thoughts to your investment approach [for the foundation's assets] beyond filtering out tobacco and Sudan?
Gates: No, there are no changes in what we're planning to say about our investments. We certainly continue to look at worldwide issues. The thing we learned last time was just as we made decisions, to make sure that we're transparent about that.
Q: What is your typical day?
Gates: The primary role Bill and I have is to set the strategies of the foundation ... to review those strategies and work with the presidents, CEO and management team to say are we on track with the very ambitious goals we've set ... I have been inside the building quite a bit more since the fall, on purpose. I'd always said when our last child went to school full time I would be able to be here more ... I've gotten to know the foundation employees ... As they're developing their strategy, they'll do a little bit of gut-checking with me ... It's a way for me to get to know the organization, not just the management level, but several levels down. We have 500 people today. It's going to grow to 1,000 in the next year. I want to make sure the culture of the place stays as the family foundation it is.
Q: The foundation has such enormous resources and influence, yet there's a board of only three people [Bill Gates, Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett]. How are you increasing transparency and accountability?
Gates: We've put these very strong advisory boards in place in all three program areas: U.S., global development and global health.
In global health, the former minister from Botswana is on that, there's a former minister from the South African government; there is somebody from the health ministry of India ... Bill and I meet with them once a year, but we hear their thoughts through the presidents [of the foundation's divisions]. When I was looking [to fill the CEO job], I reached out to them and they gave me lots of good names.
On transparency, we're doing more and more to publish our results. If you go up on the Web site, there's lots of information about what we've learned on our high-school program, good and bad. We're both listening and making sure people understand how we're doing that ... because you're absolutely right we need feedback ... We think we can inherently build in some ways to do that and be more transparent about what we're thinking and what we're learning.
Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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