Last week, Bill Gates and his wife of 27 years, Melinda French Gates, announced they were divorcing. It took many of us by surprise to suddenly hear there had been a little trouble in paradise.
The two put out a joint statement, your standard divorce fare, and asked for some space and privacy. Sure Bill. We can do that.
— Bill Gates (@BillGates) May 3, 2021
Shortly after the news of their split broke, The Daily Mail reported on a rather unconventional arrangement between the couple that dates back to the beginning of their marriage: The co-founder of Microsoft reserved the right to spend one long weekend every year with his former girlfriend, venture capitalist Ann Winblad, at her beach house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Winblad is also married.
That would take some understanding, but then again, how many chances does a girl get to marry the richest man in the world?
Still, odd as that is, had a compromise that was agreed to decades earlier suddenly became so intolerable to Melinda that she filed for divorce?
Author James Wallace has just released a new biography about Gates entitled, “Overdrive: Bill Gates and the Race to Control Cyberspace.” Wallace knows his subject well. This is his second biography on the tech billionaire. The first, published in 1992, was called, “Harddrive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire.”
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Wallace’s book is first and foremost a business success story. It picks up in the mid-1990s at a time when Netscape is taking the lead in the Web browser market. The Amazon description says, “By mid-1995 it looked as if Bill Gates and company had missed the paradigm shift created by the Internet, and many pundits doubted Microsoft could recover. … Suddenly the company found itself in the unfamiliar role of lumbering corporate giant–and underdog.”
Spoiler alert: Gates rises to the challenge and emerges on top!
In addition to the business story, Wallace weaves in the personal story. And this is where most of the surprises live.
I’ve always considered Gates to be a straight arrow. But apparently, in his younger days, he was quite the swinger.
The Daily Mail published an interview with Wallace on Monday in which they sprinkled several snippets from his book.
According to Wallace, “He wasn’t a choir boy back then, he wasn’t just this little computer nerd. He did have a life back then.”
He said, “A lot of those Microsoft kids back then, they were young guys in pizza-stained t-shirts for two or three days working on software code. Then they would have some pretty wild parties, where they would go out and get strippers in Seattle and bring them over to Bill’s home,” the Daily Mail reported.
None of this was a secret, Wallace said. Gates’ friends, as well as the media that covered him, knew about his wild streak.
The Daily Mail reported that in his book, Wallace wrote they “didn’t report on the wild bachelor parties that Microsoft’s boyish chairman would throw in his Seattle home, for which Gates would visit one of Seattle’s all-nude nightclubs and hire dancers to come to his home and swim naked with his friends in his indoor pool.”
Even after meeting Melinda in 1988, he wrote, “He [Gates] continued to play the field for a while, especially when he was out of town on business, when he would frequently hit on female journalists who covered Microsoft and the company industry.”
“His womanizing was well known, although not well reported, because Gates and Microsoft spoon-fed stories to industry writers for such papers as the New York Times, and none of them wanted the flow of information to stop.”
“French was well aware of Gates’s womanizing, and consequently their relationship ran hot and cold. At one point, they broke up for nearly a year, reportedly because Gates refused to make any kind of commitment. When they got back together again in 1992, however, the relationship grew closer and stronger.”
Wallace told the Daily Mail he doubts that Gates will “return to his naked pool-partying days.”
And contrary to the rumors, Wallace added that Melinda did sign an alleged prenuptial agreement.
In the book, he wrote that Gates was afraid to ask her himself, so he enlisted his friend Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, to help.
“According to knowledgeable sources, however, Gates did, in fact, sign a prenuptial agreement with French [Melinda’s maiden name]. Gates could not ask French himself, so he talked his pal Ballmer into convincing her to sign. Ballmer, according to those sources, explained to French that the agreement was for the good of the company.”
Former Microsoft executive Vern Raburn spoke to the Mail as well. He “corroborated” many of the stories described in Wallace’s book.
Raburn believes that Gates has been faithful to Melinda during their marriage. He said, “In fact, I had dinner with him one night. He said he was very proud of the fact that he hadn’t done any of that since he got married.”
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