Bill-Melinda divorce forces $ 50 billion from Gates Foundation to weigh change


File photo of Bill Gates with ex-wife Melinda Gates | Photographer: Ludovic Marin / AFP / Getty Images via Bloomberg

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New York: When Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates announced their surprise split after 27 years of marriage, they said there would be no change in their $ 50 billion foundation.

Now, about three weeks later, after revelations Melinda was considering divorce years earlier, in part because of Bill’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein, and amid reports of his questionable behavior at Microsoft Corp., There are signs that change is happening to one of the world’s most powerful philanthropic organizations.

Mark Suzman, CEO of the Gates Foundation, told employees he was in talks to strengthen “the foundation’s sustainability and long-term stability.”

“I’m actively discussing with Bill and Melinda what steps they and Warren might take,” Suzman said in a statement Thursday, referring to billionaire Warren Buffett, the foundation’s third board member.

Suzman said no decision has been made, but added that Bill and Melinda have “reaffirmed their commitment to the foundation and continue to work together on behalf of our mission.”

This is the latest twist in what appears to be an increasingly acrimonious split.

Since the divorce announcement posted on Twitter, it has been reported that Bill has had an extramarital affair and pursued other office romances with Microsoft employees. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Gates had received complaints about the behavior of Michael Larson, who heads Cascade Investment, which has overseen the Gates fortunes for decades.

The media assault has tainted the geeky techno-philanthropist figure of Gates and questioned the possibility of working side-by-side without disrupting the functioning of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that it was considering bringing in outside directors, citing people it did not identify.

Three members

There are currently only three directors: Gates, French Gates and Buffett, who have added more than $ 27 billion of their own money to the foundation over the past 15 years.

Any change in the structure of the foundation could have a significant impact on its orientation.

Adding more people to the board could “democratize the ultimate decision-making process,” at the foundation, said Maribel Morey, philanthropy historian and executive director of the Miami Institute for the Social Sciences.

The three-person board of directors is exceptionally small for a foundation of its size. The Ford Foundation, which is about a fifth the size of the Gates Foundation, has 15 members on its board of directors. The Rockefeller Foundation, at 10th its size, numbers no less than 12 at any given time.

Expanding the board would be a good thing, Morey said, and they could use it to increase diversity.

“Right now it’s a mutually beneficial move because, at some level, the Gates Foundation is under much more scrutiny,” Morey said. “On another level, it makes a lot more sense to include other people in the room when you’re a divorced couple with only one other person on the board.”

The fate of the foundation is only one aspect of the divorce.

Microsoft co-founder Gates, 65, is the fourth richest person in the world, with a net worth of $ 143.8 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Gates’ greatest asset is Cascade, the holding company he created with the proceeds from the sale of Microsoft shares and dividends led by Larson. Through Cascade, Gates has interests in real estate, energy and hospitality, as well as interests in dozens of public companies, including Canadian National Railways and Deere & Co. Gates are also among the largest private landowners in the United States.

In recent weeks, there have been several multibillion-dollar share transfers from Cascade to French Gates, but this is only a tiny fraction of the roughly $ 50 billion in public shares reported by the society. –Bloomberg

Read also: Bill Gates was the little genius who would save the world. Now that’s another story #MeToo

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