The announcement of Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates’ split after 27 years of marriage has left many shocked, in part due to their finely crafted image of marital stability and Gates’ image as a “nerdy do-gooder.” But since then, media outlets have turned the spotlight on Gates, opening up a slew of questions surrounding the Microsoft co-founder’s behavior during what French Gates, in her petition for divorce, called an “irretrievably broken” marriage. In case you haven’t yet had time to dig through the details of the reporting that emerged this past weekend, here are the highlights of what we’ve learned so far.
Shortly after the announcement, People and the Daily Beast published reports on the yearslong relationship between Gates and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The two men were first connected in 2011, three years after Epstein had been convicted for soliciting a minor for prostitution. According to the Daily Beast, Gates made dozens of visits to Epstein’s New York mansion, where they allegedly discussed how the Microsoft co-founder could end what he called a “toxic” marriage, as well as Epstein’s potential involvement in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Going to Jeffrey’s was a respite from his marriage. It was a way of getting away from Melinda,” one source told the Daily Beast, a characterization that a representative for Gates disputed as “inaccurate.”
Arguably the most memorable detail of the Times’ investigation was a quote from an email that Gates sent to colleagues in 2011: “His lifestyle is very different and kind of intriguing although it would not work for me,” Gates wrote about Epstein. Gates’ spokesperson told the Times that Gates had been referring to the “unique décor” in Epstein’s house.
Money Manager Michael Larson
On Sunday, the New York Times reported that French Gates asked her husband in 2017 to hire an outside party to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against his longtime money manager, Michael Larson. Larson runs Cascade Investment, the “secretive” entity that oversees much of the Gates’ wealth; the harassment allegations came from the manager of a bicycle shop that was partially owned by a venture capital firm Cascade had invested in. When these allegations first came to light, Gates had moved to settle the lawsuit for an undisclosed sum, but French Gates pushed for further action. Gates failed to hire the outside investigator, and Larson remains in his role.
The Times reported that Gates was known for seeking out relationships with women working for him, both at Microsoft and at the couple’s multibillion-dollar charity. According to the Times, in an email Gates sent to one female colleague in 2006, he asked her out to dinner and wrote: “If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened.” Another woman who worked for the Gates Foundation told the Times he’d once asked her out at a cocktail party.
And on Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Gates’ affair with a former Microsoft employee in 2000 ultimately led him to step down from the company’s board of directors. After Microsoft received a 2019 letter from a woman describing a sexual relationship with Gates, the board opened an investigation. But before it had formally been concluded, Gates resigned. A spokesperson for Gates told the Journal that “there was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably,” and claimed that the real reason for his resignation was a desire to focus more on philanthropy. But the Journal’s reporting found that “board members were concerned Mr. Gates’ relationship with the woman had been inappropriate.” Gates’ departure from the board happened three months after he had been reelected to it.
The Times pointed out the dissonance in the fact that all this was happening as French Gates worked to promote female empowerment worldwide and reported that Gates could be dismissive of his wife in meetings—“causing some foundation employees to cringe.”
French Gates allegedly opposed the relationship between Gates and Epstein from the beginning. That relationship, the Wall Street Journal reported, ultimately led French Gates to seek out divorce lawyers as early as October 2019, when the ties between Gates and Epstein became public. In the end, as Bill Gates’ reputation reels in the wake of this reporting, one takeaway feels undeniable: French Gates has handled the fallout impressively. As journalist Sarah Jones tweeted, “nothing but respect for Melinda Gates’s PR team.”