The Bill Gates’ Saga and How Corporates/NGOs Should Handle Executive Misconduct

What are the Allegations against Gates and How Serious are They and Why They Matter

Anyone who has been following the news about the tech and non-profit world in recent weeks would have heard and read about how the once celebrated tech visionary and legendary philanthropist, Bill Gates, is now alleged of serious misconduct, both in the company he cofounded, Microsoft, and the eponymous philanthropy, Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

The allegations range from Gates’ affairs with several women in the former and advances and propositioning in the latter.

Moreover, his “ties” and “links” to dubious financiers and shady powerbrokers are also coming “out into the open” and these allegations have prompted much outrage and anguish among the wider tech and business elite.

Indeed, the charges of misconduct have emerged into the open mainly on account of Melinda Gates’ filing for divorce and consequently, revealing some lesser known (at least to the general public) details of Bill Gates’ behaviour.

Moreover, given the reach of his power and the aura and the halo that he has, there are some whispers of more wrongdoing and misconduct and all these innuendos and hints add to a deadly cocktail of gossip that surrounds the once famous tech wizard.

Could Microsoft and the Gates’ Foundation Have Had Handled the Matter Differently?

The larger point of interest to us is whether both Microsoft and the Gates Foundation were aware of these instances of misconduct and whether the Boards in either organization thought it fit to reveal the investigations that they launched in recent years.

Indeed, the Board of Directors of Microsoft has already informed the media and the regulators that Bill Gates stepped down from the Board last year, pending an investigation into his dalliances with women employees.

Further, they have also informed that owing to the serious nature of such allegations and the fame of the person involved, they had chosen to proceed in a discreet manner when the matter was brought to their notice.

The Gates Foundation, on the other hand, is also considering its own investigation so much so that there are many of Gates’ beneficiaries who are now worried about the impact that these charges and the divorce proceedings on the activities of the foundation.

Moreover, even Satya Nadella, who heads Microsoft now, has spoken in public and penned a letter to the employees about the fallout from this episode.

Therefore, it is a moot point whether Microsoft and Gates’ Foundation should have handled this issue much earlier.

No Need to Go Soft, Just because it is Bill Gates, and No need for a Witch-Hunt Either

Having said that, one must also proceed with caution here as the allegations pertain to someone who is credited with being one of the pioneers of the modern IT (Information Technology) and Software Revolution and hence, just for the sake of sensationalism and juicy gossip, one must not go overboard in tarnishing an otherwise stellar reputation.

Of course, there is also the issue of whether Boards must be firm, irrespective of the status of the accused and whether executive misconduct must be treated differently from the cases of misconduct of other employees.

In addition, there is also the issue of how the Gates’ divorce would play out and the impact that it would have on their foundation.

Moreover, it is also the fact that many philanthropies run by famous business leaders often act in ways that can be considered as being beholden to them and hence, there are chances that the Gates’ Foundation might go “soft” in this matter.

On the other hand, there is nothing to suggest that he needs to be “hauled over the coals” despite the Tabloids gunning for such disgraced celebrities.

There is a need for an objective and unbiased investigation and not a witch hunt.

How Executive and Business Leader Misconduct Harms Us All and Helps None

So, with so many questions swirling around Bill Gates now, this is time to review another aspect of how society and the larger stakeholders deal with cases of misconduct by the rich and the famous.

It is always easy to say that the “law is the law” and no one is above it.

At the same time, it is also easy to fall into the trap of Television and Media ratings and go overboard.

On the other hand, there is also the issue of how fellow business leaders react when one of their peers is subject to such investigations.

Moreover, these personalities are “role models” for generations of tech and business elites and hence, there is the issue of whether their conduct must be speckles.

Even in India, we have had to deal with misconduct at the highest levels of India Inc. as was the case with Phaneesh Murthy, a former exec with Infosys.

In such cases, there is always the temptation to either crucify such individuals or rush to their defence and hence, it is our argument that there needs to be an objective and careful assessment of the allegations and a thorough probe that would reveal the truth.

The Gates’ Saga Must Not be Forgotten

Last, for those in business schools and colleges, the fall from grace of Bill Gates must be a lesson on how executive misconduct is found out sooner or later and hence, for those who look up to these leaders, it must be a cautionary tale of how they must not behave once in their careers.

On the other hand, there is every chance that this whole episode would be forgotten in the due course of time and again, this is something that is not right.

To conclude, there are lessons to be learnt for all of us from Gates’ saga.

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