Bill Gates Settles Into Full-Time Role at Foundation, Profile

Several months into his early retirement from Microsoft, the company he co-founded and helped make synonymous with personal computing software, Bill Gates is relishing the extra hours he has for considering how best to spend $3 billion a year in his role as chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Financial Times reports.

Over the past decade, Gates has given generously of his time and money to the foundation, which had an endowment of $35 billion before the financial markets cratered last fall, making it the wealthiest philanthropic organization in the world. But now that he's taken a full-time leadership position at the foundation, Gates has been able to immerse himself fully in the issues it supports, devouring academic textbooks on virology and taking regular field trips to deepen his knowledge.

At the same time, say critics, the foundation has become more complex and, according to a recent poll of grantees, more bureaucratic. Gates, for his part, seems surprised at suggestions that the foundation could do more to improve its transparency. And he bristles at critics' suggestions that the foundation — which counts Gates, his wife, Melinda, and Warren Buffett as its only trustees — needs to increase the number and diversity of those responsible for setting the foundation's strategy. "Corporations have a CEO. We have a CEO [former Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes]. Corporations have a board. We have a board," he says. "It's not a gigantic board...It doesn't avoid mistakes, but I think we've really made our best effort on those things."

Given his high profile as the world's wealthiest man and the scale and scope of the foundation's giving, the stakes are high. Gates is nothing if not determined, however, and he stresses the need for patience, noting that many of the issues the foundation is working on hinge on fifteen- to twenty-year projects. At the same time, the enjoyment he gets from his new role is obvious. "Given how much I love this stuff...I could probably [write] twenty pages just on rotavirus," he wrote in his first annual letter to foundation stakeholders. "That hasn't worked at cocktail parties."

Andrew Jack. "A Profitable View of Philanthropy." Financial Times 01/12/2009.