Today marks the last working day for Bill Gates at Microsoft. So much has been written and spoken about him that another column appears redundant. Some people may even feel a tinge of happiness that they no longer have to contend with the ruthless businessman that Gates has been portrayed as. The purpose of this post is to analyze what can be learned by young people from perhaps the most successful entrepreneur of our times.
• Focus: Bill Gates has demonstrated over nearly thirty years the importance of clarity of thought and execution. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not move away from the domain he understood better than anything else – software. He has pursued the objective of dominance in software in general and operating systems in particular that has few parallels. Venturing into unfamiliar territory may be fashionable but carries a high degree of risk. If ever a need arises for an absolute example for what Peters and Waterman called “Stick to the Knitting” and Hamel and Prahalad termed core competence, one needs to look no further than Bill Gates and Microsoft. Focus also means the ability to pursue one’s goals whatever the obstacles may be. Such a degree of perseverance is hard to come by.
• Thinking big: Along with focus, the ability to dream big and pursue that with single-minded determination sets Gates apart from other entrepreneurs. This is particularly true of entrepreneurs from emerging economies like India where an ultra-conservative attitude has stifled growth. Entrepreneurs need to develop confidence in themselves and their team that they can take on the world and come out winners.
• Passion: Simply put, if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well. From a simple thank you note to a complex proposal, it is critical to place the stamp of excellence on whatever one undertakes. Equally important is the need to constantly innovate. Change is the only constant and the more agile and adaptive we are to change, the more successful we can be.
• Learning as a life-long process: Though dropping out of college to his dreams, Bill Gates has probably read and written more than most of us ever will. In the process, he has shown the limits of formal education. Important as formal education is, perhaps it is more important to realize that learning is a life-long process. Knowledge is infinite. Even if we keep assimilating it without a break throughout a lifetime, we would not have scratched the surface. Knowledge should lead to humility and wisdom – not arrogance and one-upmanship.
• Giving back to society: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has provided a new dimension to philanthropy by addressing issues that are global in nature – malaria, cancer, AIDS. Feeling good by doing good may appear old-fashioned but this may yet be the best way forward in combating diseases that kill or maim millions of people every year. With friend and legendary investor Warren Buffet also joining hands, a formidable combination has been forged. Bill Gates has shown a remarkable degree of consistency both in his business goals and in his goals in philanthropy – he is a global citizen.
Although some Indian entrepreneurs have indeed espoused similar causes – Infosys Foundation, Azim Premji Foundation, and the House of Tata come to mind, a lot more can be done by successful Indian entrepreneurs. In fact, just 5% of the wealth of the 200 richest people can eradicate some of the most pressing problems that we face. Wealth should not be merely in terms of building the most flamboyant homes but in pursuing a higher calling. Where is the collective conscience of the rich who hav made it big due to the society that they are a part of?
As with any successful or great person, there will always be controversies. In an age where the distinction between means and ends is increasingly blurred, taking extreme positions hardly helps. One may not agree with Gates’ means for achieving what he has, but one would find it difficult to ignore his contributions to the IT industry. However, history and posterity will probably recognize him more for what he has decided to do – at a relatively young age – for the rest of his life. Combating hunger, fighting disease and educating the poor are truly lofty goals worth emulating by anyone who cares for humanity and for the quality of life on this planet. On this count, there cannot be many role models better than Bill Gates. The last thirty years have seen the emergence of an entrepreneur par excellence. The next thirty years will probably see the emergence of the greatest individual philanthropist – not necessarily in monetary terms – but in terms of the global issues addressed with dedication.
Since this is a discussion forum, two questions to readers:
• How do you get the next Bill Gates, or better, without inviting the kind of controversy that his success has spawned?
• Why can’t governments spend 1% less on defense and use the money to improve living conditions for the poorest of the poor?
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