Changes at the Gates Foundation

Back in the mid ’90s, Patty Stonesifer was a media darling: a Microsoft senior vice president, one of the first women to become a senior executive in the high-tech world, manager of the ‘interactive media’ group that would later morph into MSN and its related properties. Time Magazine declared her one of the 25 most influential people in America.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t as popular inside the company. MSN was hemorrhaging money. All those multi-media CD-ROMs her division had created weren’t pulling in big bucks either. And let’s be honest: Microsoft was a boy’s club. Her gender made her a target. When Stonesifer left the company in 1996, while everyone involved said publicly that it was a voluntary departure, the Seattle Times published a story openly speculating that she’d been forced out. In a marked departure from their normal practice, Bill Gates and other senior execs wrote angry denials to the paper. (It wasn’t quite “Dear Seattle Times: Fuck you. Strongly worded letter to follow,” but it was close.)

Not long afterward, Bill put his money where his mouth was, hiring Stonesifer as the chair for his nascent Library Foundation. That eventually morphed into the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation juggernaut, with a near 40-billion-dollar endowment and an obligation to donate at least $1.5 billion per year. Stonesifer has been there ever since, presiding over the build-up of the foundation and the distribution of nearly $16 billion. Apparently, the naysayers were wrong.

Now Stonesifer is retiring, again. Who would the Gateses pick to replace her?

Not to anyone’s surprise, they went with another exec they knew well: former Microsoft president Jeff Raikes, a longtime Microsoft exec who’s retiring from the company this year.

Unlike Stonesifer, whose reputation was of a very hard-charging executive, Raikes has always been the quiet guy who gets stuff done. You never saw Raikes standing on a stage and screaming at the top of his lungs, but he’s been quietly presiding for years over a Microsoft division that is one of the major cash cows for the company. He’s used to financial statements with multiple billions, and more importantly, he’s very good at quietly getting the best out of people.

So what will this mean for the foundation? No idea. But with Bill semi-retiring from Microsoft soon to devote more time to the foundation, Raikes is going to have his hands full.

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