Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is Bill Gates another Andrew Carnegie?

Hello Friends,

It is wise that I took some time to reflect upon Bill Gates' homily related to the ills of teaching. Initially, I became very defensive, angry and somewhat disgusted. Part of my dismay involves my opinions regarding the business practices of Microsoft. I have known friends who are (or have been) employed in management there. There stories echo much of what I have read... 

Microsoft is an amazing place, as brilliant people work there with creativity, ingenuity and as a team... and boy do they work hard. However, my friends also recount stories where the business practices are less than virtuous and, by many accounts, illegal and dangerous to our economy.

In many respects, Bill Gates reminds me of the "Robber Barons" that proceeded the Progressive Era. They introduced new products, created a system of production that utilized new efficiencies and reaped unimaginable profits, all while engaging in questionable business practices. Then, at the end of their lives they turned to humanitarian causes and were given the "bully pulpit." 

One of the most interesting books I have read is the Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie. In this enduring text, Carnegie talks about finding fulfillment not from money but in humanitarian causes. However, the irony is that this very person who is challenging us to live a life dedicated to the welfare of others did not, in my opinion, do so when leading US Steel. 

I feel similarly about Bill Gates. He is brilliant, revolutionized our world but, at the same time, engaged in business practices I find troubling. Initially, it is painful to hear him challenge me in a sarcastic and condescending tone. Especially, when I am like so many who have dedicated their professional lives to serving young people.

Nonetheless, his message is thought-provoking and correct in many respects. As a profession, we often reward mediocrity and have not narrowed our focus to analyze meaningful data. His ideas are good for us to hear, though I do think there is evidence of many local schools doing the very thing he exhorts us to do... there is just a side of me that does not appreciate hearing it from him, as he hasn't earned my respect on a personal level. 

As Gandhi was fond of saying, "It is easy to be the prophet. The real hero is doing the work." 


  1. What a well-spoken critique and analysis of Mr. Gates. Having a limited and naive view of him, I appreciate the personal connection you convey that serves credence to your argument. Who are other characters that fit into this Carnegie-Gates mold? Rockefeller, Sam Walton, Henry Ford, Donald Trump? It begs the pursuit of the anti-Carnegie-Gates businessman. The guy who did it the right way with principled practices, with transparent and honorable people? Would any of modern tech gurus? Bezos? Cuban? Jobs?

  2. Good question... I am not sure who might fit the bill of a principled business person but I am confident there are many. For me, the question is, "How does one acquire the mantle of authority?" Why do we listen so closely to Bill Gates?