The Shady Side Of Bill Gates

In the fawning, fascinating 2019 Netflix hagiography "Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates" the Microsoft founder is painted as a stoic if nebbish full-time philanthropist who spends his days hunkered over his laptop and downing Diet Cokes, nestled inside a cozy lakeside cottage as he contemplates saving the world, one effectively altruistic donation at a time.

Gates has come a long way in the decades since he first became a Seattle-area software sensation, conquering the world with his ubiquitous yet notoriously unruly PC operating system, Windows. In some ways, before Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, Gates was the original tech bad boy — so good at his job, so smart, so maniacally dedicated to building an empire of engineering, the U.S. Federal government began to see him as a real threat to competition in the digital marketplaces that would define the future. 

Since the announcement of his divorce from wife Melinda Gates in 2021 — and the avalanche of suspiciously-timed bad press that followed — Bill, has somewhat come full circle. The same media that adored his eccentric generosity has now uncovered that while Netflix was singing his praises, his own company was investigating his alleged shady behavior with a subordinate. Few could doubt Gates is one of the great geniuses of his era, an entrepreneur who genuinely changed the world — and then pledged his profits to save it. But lately, word has gotten around this silicon scion might just be flesh and blood, too.

Bill Gates cheated on Melinda Gates

Bill Gates and Melinda Gates met in 1987 while then-Melinda French worked in product development for Microsoft. Bill, CEO at the time, didn't see it going anywhere, "When we first met, she had other boyfriends, and I had Microsoft," the mogul said in the redundantly titled Netflix documentary "Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates" via CNN. Regardless, the two started going steady in 1993 and married in a private ceremony in 1994. The couple has three children together, but in May 2021 told the world their 27-year marriage was over in a sudden yet anodyne announcement.

That's when the revelations of Bill's infidelity started leaking from the formerly tight Gates camp. It turns out in 2019 Microsoft directors began investigating an employee's "allegations of [a] prior sexual relationship with Bill Gates," according to the Wall Street Journal. Bill stepped down from the company board in 2020, just months before the investigation released its findings. A rep for Gates admitted the affair but claimed the sudden decision to step down was unrelated, "There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably."

Melinda may have known something about Bill's extramarital activity, according to People. "Melinda was aware there were some issues, but it's unclear if she knew about all of it," claimed an insider. Whether or not Melinda's was cc'd, the company allegedly knew. "There definitely were steps taken along the way with Microsoft at various times based on his behavior," added the source.

Are Bill and Melinda Gates waging war in the press?

Bill Gates and Melinda Gates first announced their surprise split on May 3, 2021, with a mostly boilerplate statement. Claiming they had put "a lot of work" into the marriage, they concluded, "We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives." The philanthropic bigwigs did, however, pledge to "continue our work together at the foundation."

Considering all the leaks about Bill's private life since the announcement, that statement, attributed to Bill and Melinda both, would perhaps be the last time the former couple was on the same page in public. Just three days after the split news, the Daily Beast reported Melinda Gates had "warned Bill about" his relationship with disgraced — and now deceased — financier Jeffrey Epstein. 10 days after that, The New York Times was detailing Bill's alleged history of "questionable behavior" at Microsoft including a harassment claim. 

We should point out here that this entire listicle is mostly news dropped in the direct aftermath of the shock announcement. A cynical observer might surmise the couple's split wasn't as amicable as the Twitter revelation hinted, and that a shadow PR campaign had thus begun, proceeding a divorce where a nearly $130 billion fortune is at play, per Forbes.

About that questionable relationship Bill Gates had with Jeffrey Epstein

Bill Gates palling around with Jeffrey Epstein is the ultimate fever-dream of every Reddit conspiracy thread come to fruition. For those who don't recall, Epstein was the mysterious financier who had served time in Florida in 2008 for suspected sex trafficking but somehow pled down to soliciting prostitution, according to the Miami Herald. Epstein died in prison in 2019 while awaiting an additional slew of "sex trafficking and conspiracy charges," per the BBC

Gates and Epstein struck up a relationship in 2011, according to The New York Times, well after it was known Epstein was a predator. "His lifestyle is very different and kind of intriguing although it would not work for me," Gates said in an email that year. Melinda caught wind of this and expressed concerns to Bill in 2013, again according to The New York Times. "For years, Mr. Gates continued to go to dinners and meetings at Mr. Epstein's home, where Mr. Epstein usually surrounded himself with young and attractive women," the paper writes, though Gates' spokesperson says young women were not present at their strictly philanthropic meetings. 

But Gates also allegedly told Epstein he was unhappy in his marriage. Soon after Bill's relationship with Epstein was publicized in 2019, Melinda "began consulting with divorce lawyers and other advisers who would help the couple divide their assets," a source told NYT. The Wall Street Journal also confirms the timing of Melinda hiring divorce lawyers, calling their relationship "irretrievably broken."

Bill Gates allegedly attempted affairs with multiple employees

Oh boy oh Bill. The man who co-founded Microsoft not only met his future wife, Melinda French, at the company, but Bill Gates also had eyes for other employees too, so says The New York Times. Oddly though, the path to the split may have started in 2018 when Melinda became dissatisfied with Bill's "handling of a previously undisclosed sexual harassment claim against his longtime money manager," sources told the paper. Whereas Bill opted for a confidential settlement, Melinda allegedly wanted "an outside investigation" into Michael Larson, the money manager. who, as of May 2020, was still with Microsoft.

Previously, Bill himself had allegedly pursued women both at Microsoft and at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to The Times. The mogul had "sought to initiate an intimate relationship with a company employee in the year 2000," according to a 2019 internal investigation at Microsoft. The woman came forward via a letter that year, according to The Wall Street Journal, and "demanded changes to her Microsoft job and also shared details of her relationship with Mr. Gates."

Gates was described to The Times as engaging in "behavior ... inappropriate for a person at the helm of a major publicly traded company and one of the world's most influential philanthropies." Gates' spokesperson, Bridgitt Arnold, admitted his affair but pushed back against the negative characterizations in the press. "It is extremely disappointing that there have been so many untruths published about the cause, the circumstances, and the timeline of Bill Gates's divorce," she said.

There is at least one alleged Bill Gates affair that appears completely made up

Once the impropriety floodgates against a famous man open, sometimes that's a tough spigot to plug. Following the news of Bill and Melinda Gates' split, rumors began swirling on Chinese social media that the Microsoft mogul had also bedded a Chinese interpreter who had worked for him at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

36-year-old Zhe 'Shelly' Wang was forced to take to social media herself, via a popular Chinese platform called Weibo (according to the Daily Mail) to shoot down the scuttlebutt, 'I originally thought [the rumor] would be self-defeating because of the baselessness, but I didn't expect it to get more crazy," she wrote in her native Mandarin. "Thank you for your concern over the past 24 hours through private messages, and friends who helped me dispel these rumors."

Wang is single and lives in the Seattle area. She worked for both Yale and Harvard and as a flight attendant for Delta airlines before that. The rumors appear to be manufactured out of nothing more than her presence at Gates' company amidst the turmoil in the billionaire's personal life. One of those friends Wang mentioned is Li Donglei, who defended her, somewhat anachronistically, via his blog, "'She is a former colleague of mine, a very clean girl, and a person I admire. I don't believe she would get involved in other people's marriages. I think it is entirely my instinct that Wang Zhe can't do this kind of thing."

Bill Gates took getaways with his ex-girlfriend after marrying Melinda

Bill Gates' rep admitted to The New York Times the mogul had a sexual relationship with a Microsoft employee just six years after his 1994 wedding to Melinda French. So, maybe it's not surprising some are insinuating there appears to be an arrangement between the couple regarding marital fidelity.

After all, shortly after Bill and Melinda's nuptials, the Microsoft CEO was still enjoying "a long weekend every year at a cozy beach cottage in North Carolina — with his old girlfriend," according to the New York Post. But this relationship with ex Ann Winblad was hardly a trade secret. "The billionaire Microsoft founder made sure the bizarre arrangement was part of the deal when he married Melinda French," asserts The Post.

That's likely partly because Bill actually told TIME magazine all about the arrangement in a 1997 profile. "We can play putt-putt while discussing biotechnology," Gates gushed of the pair's extramarital getaways. "We share our thoughts about the world and ourselves," Winblad added. Gates apparently even consulted his techie ex before his proposal to his future wife, "When I was off on my own thinking about marrying Melinda, I called Ann and asked for her approval." Windbald, who is now married to the brother of actor Kevin Kline, gave Bill her blessing, "I said she'd be a good match for him because she had intellectual stamina." No one apparently doubted Bill's stamina.

Melinda Gates is lawyering up

Speaking of signs that Bill Gates and Melinda Gates are not exactly on the best of terms post-split, Melinda, now often being referred to in the popular press as Melinda French Gates, has obtained some unusual legal counsel and could be looking to change her financial arrangement with her ex, according to Page Six.

After a recent "ten-figure transfer" from Bill, Melinda Gates' net worth is now at some $2.4 billion, according to Forbes. But weirdly, that might not give her full financial freedom when it comes to the couple's children. Although they've never confirmed the widely reported inheritance figure of $10 million per Gates kid, Bill has repeatedly declared that his progeny will need to find their own way. But post-divorce announcement, Melinda obtained the services of "well-known trust and estate lawyers," according to high-profile divorce attorneys Harriet Newman Cohen and Martha Cohen Stine, via Page Six. The experts told the paper it is "most unusual for trust and estate lawyers' names to be listed on a divorce filing."

Though the couple pledged to give away most of its vast fortune, this move, according to the divorce attorneys, is a possible sign that "Melinda has potential plans for her family that diverge from Bill's." Separation agreements usually do not address inheritance for children, according to the New York Post, but if this area is not spelled out in divorce documents explicitly, Melinda would be free to change any previous verbal agreement she and Bill had reached.

Bill Gates was cocky as he allegedly tried to suppress competition

Bill Gates wasn't always the meek yet low-key-philandering philanthropist you see today. As a younger man, he may have let his intellectual and creative superiority go to his head as he shadily positioned his company to be the only brand in the online space.

It's easy to forget in a world dominated by sleek Apple devices and the big-data of new monopolies like Google and Facebook, that back in the '90s, the only game in town for personal computing was Microsoft's Windows, running on "90 percent of computers," according to The Irish Times. That ubiquity made it tempting to squeeze out competitors. But it gets worse. In 1998, Gates was accused of dishonesty under oath, regarding "a web of illegal deals to carve up the internet market with rivals and customers." Beyond Gates' own alleged behavior, his company was accused of "seeking to co-opt rivals in its battle to crush Netscape Communications, the internet software pioneer."

Netscape was attempting to enter the browser market and Gates allegedly colluded with other companies, including America Online, to, again, per The Irish Times, "set about destroying its rival's revenues by distributing its own browser free of charge and forcing its customers to block Netscape's products." Gates was combative and evasive in a 1998 deposition, and ended up "stepp[ing] down as Microsoft CEO in the middle of the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust case," which was settled — without the breakup of the software giant — in 2001, per CNBC

Bill Gates admits he was a harsh boss

Almost anyone who has worked an office desk job likely knows that feeling of the overbearing, omnipresent, micromanaging uber-boss, constantly hovering and hectoring in an ill-fated attempt to squeeze every last ounce of productivity out of your ever-diminishing will to work. That may have been an apt description of Bill Gates' CEO style in his 1990s' heyday.

"I was quite fanatical about work," Gates admitted in a 2016 interview on BBC Radio 4, "I worked weekends. I didn't really believe in vacations." And like all the worst bosses, Gates admitted he turned his company into a competition to who could be chained to their desk the longest. "I knew everybody's license plates, so I could look out in the parking lot and see, you know, when did people come in, when were they were leaving. Eventually, I had to loosen up as the company got to a reasonable size."

Why wouldn't Gates just remember, say, the make and model of his employee's cars, instead of the random string of numbers and letters that make up Washington State license plates? Who knows. Maybe that would just be too easy for someone so smart, acting so questionably. Research shows this kind of workaholic mindset is actually counterproductive for a corporate bottom line, and Gates' Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, agreed, writing in Vanity Fair in 2011, "People were already busting their tails and it got under their skin when Bill hectored them into doing more."

Does Bill Gates have too much money?

Can even a philanthropist who has pledged to give away nearly his entire fortune have too much money? Yes, say some, arguing there is a "dark side" to big philanthropy.

In a letter to the editor in The Washington Post, the writer outlines how The Supreme Court in Gates' home state of Washington declared public funding of charter schools "unconstitutional," and claims Gates subsequently "supported a referendum" and then made private donations to existing schools. The issue of whether or not you support such schools is less the issue than the fact that, as the op-ed writer asserts, "the very rich are able to pursue their intentions, no matter their effects on the rest of us, by funneling millions of dollars into them."

This trend abroad has also been called "philanthrocapitalism" according to The Economic Times, in which, "large philanthropic resources are being utilized to further the interests of business." Critics say there is always the issue of accountability when one person has so much sway over global issues. "Depending on what side of bed Gates gets out of in the morning," argues Gregg Gonsalves, AIDS activist and co-founder of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, via the New Internationalist, "it can shift the terrain of global health." This scrutiny could mean Gates' personal reputation matters more than ever if he hopes to achieve his laudable goals, including the eradication of Polio.

Could the mogul's personal foibles represent a fresh challenge for the Gates Foundation agenda?