After 27 years of marriage, Bill and Melinda Gates announced their divorce on Monday.
“After much thinking and hard work on our relationship, we've decided to finish our marriage,” the couple said in a statement released on Twitter. “"We have raised three different children and are committed to a global foundation to ensure that everyone has a safe and healthy life."
One of the world's most valuable fortunes is at risk, estimated at $145.8 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, as well as one of the world's biggest philanthropy operations. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given away more than $50 billion, helping to battle Covid-19, leading the fight against climate change, and fighting for women's rights.
Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft Corporation, is the world's fourth wealthiest individual. Melinda Gates, 56, is a former Microsoft manager who, in her position as co-chair of the Gates Foundation, has become a vocal advocate for global health and gender equality.
Although the split is expected to shake up the world's richest people's lists, the couple emphasised that it would have no effect on their philanthropic behemoth.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the foundation said, "They remain co-chairs and trustees of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation." There are no plans to change their jobs or the organisation. They'll keep collaborating to form and approve foundation plans, lobby for the foundation's concerns, and set the organization's overall course.
Following Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott's separation announcement in 2019, this is the second high-profile divorce among the world's wealthiest people in recent years.
MacKenzie became one of the world's wealthiest women almost immediately after the couple's interest in Amazon.com Inc. was divided. In the months that followed, she rose to become one of the world's most powerful philanthropists, donating billions of dollars to causes that are often ignored by billionaire donors.
The Gates fortune could be more difficult to dissect than Bezos', which was primarily concentrated in Amazon stock.
Bill Gates' net worth began with Microsoft, but the company's stock now accounts for less than 20% of his total assets. Over the years, he's shifted a large portion of his stake into the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, though his exact stake hasn't been revealed since he quit Microsoft's board last year.
Cascade Investment, which Gates established with the proceeds of Microsoft stock sales and dividends and is managed by Michael Larson, is Gates' most valuable asset. Gates has investments in real estate, oil, and hospitality through Cascade, as well as stakes in hundreds of public companies, including Canadian National Railway and Deere & Company.
According to Monica Mazzei, a divorce attorney and partner at San Francisco's Sideman & Bancroft LLP, the big question about the couple's base and family office is how much they plan to collaborate in the future.
The couple lives in a community property county, Washington. According to Mazzei, this means that everything gained during a marriage is deemed equally shared by both spouses.
It's unclear if the two reached a pre-nuptial agreement.
They met in New York in the 1980s, when Melinda was still working at Microsoft.
In the Netflix documentary series "Inside Bill's Brain," Melinda described how she walked into his bedroom to find him tabulating different factors on a whiteboard while deciding whether or not to marry.
Philanthropy has always been an important part of the couple's friendship and marriage. Bill's mother, Mary, who had been trying to persuade him to increase his charitable giving, sent Melinda a letter the day before they married in Hawaii, which ended with the words "From those to whom much is given, much is required." Mary Gates passed away a few months later.
However, it was during their engagement trip to Africa that the pair decided to become serious philanthropists.
At a Salesforce event in 2016, Melinda said, "We fell in love with everything we saw, but it's not at all trite to say that we just fell in love with the people." “It just started us thinking about what was going on and asking ourselves, ‘What is going on here?'”
Later in the journey, the couple completed a marriage questionnaire to ensure that their beliefs were aligned. That's why they agreed that "the vast majority of Microsoft money will go back to society," according to Melinda. “It was a simple conversation. We just assumed we'd have to wait until later in life to do it.”
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