Bill Gates as Historic Figure and Real-life Action Hero

By Peter Bernstein January 16, 2012

Was this a mere coincidence, or just well-timed? That is an interesting question. 

On January 12th, CNBC ran (what it labeled as a “premiere” showing) of the 2008 documentary, “Bill Gates: How a Geek Changed the World.” OK, so it is a bit dated, missing out on how Microsoft is now losing the browser wars and missed the whole SEARCH thing, for instance. However, for techie history buffs, it was a quite comprehensive review of most things Gates.  

This included a narration of his journey/back story from young man to a business leader, who but for his charitable donations would be the world’s wealthiest person. It also included interviews with Gates, friends and family, Microsoft colleagues and a sprinkling of competitors.  

We got to see the personal and business side of arguably the world’s most famous living businessman over time. We even got a peek, via some fascinating video, of him conducting meetings inside Microsoft. These shed light for brief snippets on many of the characterizations that have shaped the public perceptions of Gates — tech genius, marketing genius/bully, someone who does not suffer people he considers fools (basically everyone) lightly, socially maladapted on occasion, and yet the guy who despite the sometimes gruff exterior came out of all of this as the world’s biggest philanthropist through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

There is little new here. However, despite it being yesterday’s news, it is illuminating. Learning and understanding, after all, are gained from digesting not just today’s news and instant punditry, but also from appreciation of context and history. It is two hours worth spending if you have the chance. 

January 12 also was the day Jason (Frugal Dad) published an interesting infographic on Gates, with the SEO grabbing title, “Redefining Action Hero: Bill Gates is Better Than Batman (Infographic)”.

Two things struck me. First, the billions being committed by Bill and Melinda Gates and their friends fit the definition of “big bucks.” To paraphrase a famous quotation, attributed to the late U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen, “A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you are talking about real money.” And, not just real money, but real results.

The quote from Gates that, “(The) hybrid engine of self-interest and concern for others can serve a much wider circle of people than can be reached by self-interest alone,” also resonated. 

For years, commonly in conjunction with corporate declarations on eco-sustainability, a popular refrain has been that companies should be acting as good stewards of scarce natural resources because they can, “do well by doing good.” 

Whatever you think of Bill Gates, his quote seems to go further. It is about giving back and not about getting ahead, except in the context of making the world a better place. It harkens back to the song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie and performed by the super group USA for Africa back in 1985, “We are the World.”        

For that, Gates should be commended. It made watching the documentary that much more enjoyable. Is he better than Batman? To be honest, the world has plenty of fantasy forces of good. It could use a lot more real ones. It also proves the variety of ways technology can directly and indirectly improve the world when properly applied.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO East 2012, taking place Jan. 31-Feb. 3 2012, in Miami, FL. ITEXPO offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. For more information on registering for ITEXPO, click here.

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Peter Bernstein is a technology industry veteran, having worked in multiple capacities with several of the industry's biggest and best known brands, and has served on the Advisory Boards of 15 technology startups. To read more of Peter's work, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell
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