© Reuters. Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attends a press conference as the foundation teams up with the Japan Sports Agency and Tokyo 2020 to promote the Sustainable Development Goals in conjunction with the Olympic Games, in Tokyo
By Eric M. Johnson and Alexandra Ulmer
SEATTLE (Reuters) – Billionaire benefactors Bill and Melinda Gates, co-founders of one of the world’s largest private charitable foundations, filed for divorce on Monday after 27 years of marriage but pledged to continue their philanthropic work together.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has become one of the most powerful and influential forces in global public health, spending more than $ 50 billion over the past two decades to bring a business-like approach to the fight against poverty. and disease.
The Gates have supported widely acclaimed programs in malaria and polio eradication, child nutrition and vaccines. Last year, the foundation pledged some $ 1.75 billion to help with COVID-19.
In a joint petition to dissolve the marriage, the couple claimed their legal union was “irretrievably broken”, but said they had reached an agreement on how to divide their marital property. No details of the deal were disclosed in the case filed in King County Superior Court in Seattle.
Bill Gates, 65, who co-founded Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ :), and his wife, Melinda French Gates, 56, met after joining the software giant as a product manager, and they dated for a few years before tying the knot in January 1994 in Hawaii. .
“After a lot of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage,” the two said in a joint statement posted to each of their individual Twitter accounts.
“We no longer believe that we can grow together as a couple in the next phase of our life. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life,” he said. they stated.
The divorce petition, which says the couple have no minor children, comes after the youngest of their three children recently turned 18.
Launched in 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Nonprofit Foundation ranks as the largest private philanthropic foundation in the United States and one of the largest in the world, with net assets of $ 43.3 billion at the end of 2019, according to the latest annual financial data presented. on its website.
From 1994 to 2018, the couple donated more than $ 36 billion to the Seattle-based foundation, according to the website.
Last year, investor Warren Buffett said he donated more than $ 2 billion in shares of his Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE 🙂 Inc to the Gates Foundation as part of previously announced plans to donate his entire fortune. before his death.
‘NO CHANGE OF THEIR ROLES’
In their divorce petition, the couple ask the court to “dissolve our marriage” and share their common property, business interests and responsibilities “as stated in our separation contract”, although this agreement has not been made. public.
Bill Gates is ranked # 4 on Forbes’ list of the richest people in the world, with an estimated fortune of $ 124 billion.
In a separate statement, the Gates Foundation said the couple will remain co-chairs and directors of the organization.
“They will continue to work together to shape and endorse the foundation’s strategies, advocate for foundation issues and set the overall direction of the organization,” the foundation’s statement read.
The split comes two years after another Seattle-based billionaire and philanthropist, Amazon.com Inc (NASDAQ 🙂 founder Jeff Bezos said he and his then-wife MacKenzie had divorced.
At least one critic of billionaire benefactors has cited the Gates split as an edifying tale in the wisdom of focusing so much influence on global humanitarian issues under the control of very wealthy individuals.
“Gates’ divorce will more than turn a family’s life upside down. It will branch out into the worlds of business, education, public health, civil society, philanthropy and beyond,” he said. Anand Giridharadas, author of the book “Winners Take All”, told Reuters. .
“This is because our society has made the colossal mistake of allowing wealth to buy the ability to make quasi-government decisions as a private citizen,” he said.
Gates left Harvard University to start Microsoft with his school pal Paul Allen in 1975. Gates owned 49% of Microsoft when it went public in 1986, making him an instant multimillionaire. With Microsoft’s explosive growth, he quickly became one of the richest individuals in the world.
After a management tenure in which he helped transform the company into one of the world’s leading technology companies, Gates resigned as CEO of Microsoft in 2000 to focus on philanthropy. He remained chairman until 2014 and stepped down from the company’s board of directors in March 2020.
Known in the tech industry as a bitter and ruthless competitor, Gates drew the wrath of his rivals and ultimately the US government for Microsoft’s business practices.
The software giant was found guilty of antitrust violations in the late 1990s. But the verdict was overturned on appeal and the company then settled the case out of court.
Gates’ public figure has mellowed into a former avuncular statesman as he turned his attention to philanthropy, and he has largely avoided the many controversies currently plaguing the tech industry.
Melinda French Gates, who recently added her maiden name to most of her websites and social media, grew up in Dallas and studied computer science and economics at Duke University before joining Microsoft.
In 2015, she founded Pivotal Ventures, an investment firm focused on women and families, and in 2019 published a book, “The Moment of Lift”, which focuses on empowering women.