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If you like Bill Gates's story, you might also like:
Timothy Berners-Lee,
Jeffrey Bezos,
Stephen Case,
Michael Dell,
Lawrence Ellison,
John Hennessy,
Reid Hoffman,
Jeong Kim,
Ray Kurzweil,
Craig McCaw,
Pierre Omidyar,
Larry Page,
George Rathmann,
Carlos Slim,
Frederick Smith,
Ted Turner and
Oprah Winfrey

Bill Gates's recommended reading: A Separate Peace

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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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Bill Gates
Bill Gates
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Bill Gates Interview (page: 2 / 7)

Co-Founder and Chairman, Microsoft Corporation

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  Bill Gates

Did you get a royalty from IBM for each computer they sold with MS-DOS?

Bill Gates: Actually, no.

The IBM initial deal is a flat fee deal, another flat fee deal. It had certain restrictions that prevented IBM from selling to other hardware makers. So if people did IBM PC compatible machines, we would get the revenue by doing business directly with those people. And the deal was very complicated, but it was a deal that Steve Ballmer -- who's a key person with the company by that time -- and I thought a lot about. It was a fairly junior team from IBM, so we tried to make sure that -- given our belief that personal computers would be hyper-popular -- that Microsoft would get a lot of that upside. So they felt they got a very good deal, which they did, but as the industry expanded, we -- for new versions and for different machines -- we got that opportunity, even though they did not pay us a royalty.

Bill Gates Interview Photo

When did you realize just how wildly successful this business would be?

Bill Gates: Even in the early days, if you set a computer on every desk in every home, and you'd say, "Okay, how many homes are there in the world? How many desks are there in the world? Can I make $20 for every home, $20 for every desk?" you could get these big numbers. But part of the beauty of the whole thing was we were very focused on the here and now. Should we hire one more person? If our customers didn't pay us, would we have enough cash to meet the payroll? We really were very practical about that next thing, and so involved in the deep engineering that we didn't get ahead of ourselves. We never thought how big we'd be. I remember when one of the early lists of wealthy people came out and one of the Intel founders was there, the guy that ran Wang computers actually was still -- Wang was still doing well -- and we thought, "Hmm. Boy, if the software business does well, the value of Microsoft could be similar to that." But it wasn't a real focus. The everyday activity of just doing great software drew us in. And some decisions we made -- like the quality of the people, the way we were very global, the vision of how we thought about software -- that was very long term. But other than those things, we just came into work every day and wrote more code and hired more people. It wasn't really until the IBM PC succeeded, and perhaps even until Windows succeeded, that there was a broad awareness that Microsoft was very unique as a software company, and that these other companies had been one-product companies, hadn't hired people, couldn't do a broad set of things, didn't renew their excellence, didn't do research. So we thought we were doing something very unique, but it was easily not until 1995, or even 1997, that there was this wide recognition that we were the company that had revolutionized software.

When you were growing up, did you have any vision of what you wanted to accomplish?

Bill Gates: When I was very young I hadn't been exposed to computers so I was mostly just reading, doing math, learning about science, and I wasn't sure what my career would be. I knew I loved learning about things. I was an avid reader, but it was when I was 12 years old that I first got to use a computer, actually a very limited machine by today's standards. But that definitely fascinated me when I was first exposed.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Love at first sight?

Bill Gates: I was intrigued by figuring out what it could do and what it couldn't do. And some friends and I spent lots of time. The teachers got intimidated so we were on our own trying to figure it out. Actually, we gave a course on computers to the other students, and it became a fascination, where we got paid for doing computer work and talked about forming a company. But there was kind of a magical breakthrough when the computer became cheap, and we could see that everyone could afford a computer. That was much later, but that's what got us to really get together and create a company for software.

Tell us more about your childhood. What books were important to you as a kid?

Bill Gates: Well, I read a lot. There were always contests at the library, in the summer, where if you read ten books you got a little gold star, if you read 20 you got two. And there were five or six girls and I that would always read like 35 books, and we'd see who could do the most. It was a broad set of things. Eventually a fair bit of science fiction, because that intrigued me. Some biographies, understanding what different leaders had done and how they'd picked what they wanted to do. So I'd say science fiction and biographies were the categories that had the most impact.

Weren't you a Tarzan fan?

Bill Gates: Yeah. Among the science fiction things, William Rice Burroughs wrote a Martian series, and I read that. And then he also had the Tarzan books, and there's an unbelievable number of them, like 40 of them. I eventually decided to read those as well.

Was Catcher in the Rye a favorite later on?

Bill Gates: That's right. I didn't actually read Catcher in the Rye until I was 13, and ever since then I've said that's my favorite book. It's very clever. It acknowledges that young people are a little confused, but can be smart about things and see things that adults don't really see. So I've always loved it.

We've read that A Separate Peace is another book that was important to you.

Bill Gates: Yes, my second favorite book is the book by John Knowles called A Separate Peace. And that's a phenomenal book. I've been reading it to my son recently. There is actually a movie made of it that's fairly good, but I'd say the book is incredibly good.

What did you like about it?

Bill Gates: Well, it's two young boys growing up: one who is sort of intentionally trying to be good at things, and the other is just kind of naturally great at sports and has this wonderful energy and they have this great friendship. And it happens to be at a time where the older boys are going off to war, and they're trying go figure out what does that mean to them. And the author talks about this period of his life as really defining the rest of his life, how he sees everything sort of in comparison to this period where he didn't really know where he fit in. He thought of himself as maybe too calculating. The end of the book, which I won't spoil, is a bit of a tragedy with this friend of his, but it really talks a lot about what is our bargain with the world. How do we grow up? What are we worried about, and how do we take that into adulthood?

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This page last revised on Sep 23, 2010 11:02 EDT
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