With a net worth of approximately $78.9 billion, Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates is the wealthiest man in the world.Gates has been a public fixture ever since he and Paul Allen started a computer revolution in the 1980s. He has all of the toys you would expect from the world’s richest man, from a private jet to a 66,000-square-foot home he nicknamed Xanadu 2.0.Yet as his wealth has grown, Gates has done more and more philanthropy work, donating billions of dollars to charity projects through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Bill Gates was born on October 28, 1955 in Seattle, Washington. Son of a lawyer and a schoolteacher, he was an argumentative but brilliant child. As a teenager, his appetite for knowledge was so great that he read the entire World Book Encyclopedia series from start to finish.
His parents enrolled him at the Lakeside School, a rigorous Seattle private high school that future Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen also attended. Gates often credits his discovery of computers to the tools he gained at Lakeside. “The experience and insight Paul Allen and I gained here gave us the confidence to start a company based on this wild idea that nobody else agreed with—that computer chips were going to become so powerful that computers and software would become a tool that would be on every desk and in every home,” he said in a 2005 speech at the school.
After graduating from Lakeside in 1973, Gates headed to Harvard. Though he entered as a pre-law major, he soon changed course and quickly worked his way through the university’s upper-level math and computer science classes.
Harvard is where Gates met Steve Ballmer, whom he would later bring to Microsoft and eventually promote to CEO of the company. Although they lived down the hall from each other in Currier House, they met during a graduate-level economics class. The pair remain good friends today.
Two years later, Gates dropped out of school to found Microsoft with Paul Allen. Though he never earned his bachelor’s degree, Harvard awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2007. “I’m a bad influence. That’s why I was invited to speak at your graduation,” he said at the commencement ceremony. “If I had spoken at your orientation, fewer of you might be here today.”
While he was still in school, Gates started developing software for MITS Altair, the world’s first personal computer. In 1977, Gates and Allen moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where MITS was based, to set up their young software company. Pictured here are the 11 original Microsoft employees.
In 1979, Gates and Allen relocated Microsoft to their hometown of Seattle, first setting up shop in the suburb of Bellevue and later moving to Redmond.
Microsoft released Windows in 1985 and went public in 1986. By 1987, 31-year-old Gates was a billionaire.
In 1995, Gates became the richest man in the world, with an estimated fortune of $12.9 billion. He’s been at or near the top of the list of the world’s richest ever since.
In 1998, Microsoft was brought to court on charges that the company was abusing its power as a software monopoly. Gates had a very mixed public reputation at the time.
Gates met his future wife, Melinda, at a press event in 1987. She was a Microsoft employee and later moved up to become an executive of interactive content. They married in 1994, and she eventually left the company to pursue charity work.
Bill, Melinda, and their three children live in this massive, high-tech home in Medina, Washington. The home has some incredibly futuristic features, including an underwater sound system in the pool and computerized pins that the house can read to customize music, temperature, and lighting. The house has an astonishing 24 bathrooms, plus a garage that can accommodate up to 23 cars. It’s worth an estimated $121 million.
Included in his mansion’s many rooms is a huge domed library filled with books. Gates is an avid reader, and he reportedly hired a rare-books dealer to stock his library for him. Among his possessions is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Codex Leicester,” a 15th-century manuscript that Gates bought at auction for $30.8 million in 1994.
Gates has an extensive art collection as well. In 1998 he set a record for American art when he paid $36 million for Winslow Homer’s “Lost on the Grand Banks.” He also owns pieces by American artists Andrew Wyeth and William Merritt Chase.
Last year, Gates paid $8.7 million for a Mediterranean-style home in Wellington, Florida. The family had previously rented the house while they were in Florida for daughter Jennifer’s equestrian competitions. The home includes several horse-friendly features, like a 20-stall barn and a show-jumping arena.
Gates likes to take educational trips with his son. They’ve toured mines, electric plants, and missile solos, and they’ve even taken a trip to the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. “He likes learning along with me,” Gates said to Quartz.
He’s also been known to spend some time at Apussuit Adventure Camp, a remote ski center in Greenland. The resort has no lifts and few people.
Gates has always had a thing for fast cars. Over the years, he’s owned a Porsche 930 Turbo, a Mercedes, a Jaguar XJ6, a Carrera Cabriolet 964, and a Ferrari 348. In the early years of Microsoft, he bought a 1979 Porsche 911 that he used to race around the desert.
Paul Allen had to bail him out of jail after one such incident in 1977. The Porsche 911 was auctioned off for $80,000 in 2012.
When he bought his Porsche 959 in the late ’90s, the car was held up at customs because it had not yet met EPA standards. Gates, along with several other wealthy Porsche owners, put up such a fight that the Clinton administration passed the “Show and Display” law, which allows certain imported vehicles to be exempt from Federal Motor Safety Standards if the car is historically or technologically significant.
Playing tennis is one of Gates’ favorite hobbies. Here he high-fives Jeff Bezos during a 2001 charity match.
He counts legendary investor Warren Buffett among his close friends. When Gates wanted to propose to Melinda in the early 1990s, Buffett helped the couple pick out a ring. They’ve taken many trips together, and have even competed in bridge and table tennis tournaments. Gates sits on the board of Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett’s investment firm, and Buffett has donated billions to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Here they attend a basketball game with rapper Ludacris.
Gates stepped down from his position as CEO of Microsoft in 2000, taking on a more limited role as chairman. Nowadays, he serves as technology advisor to current CEO Satya Nadella. When he’s not working on something with Microsoft, Gates and wife Melinda travel to do charity work through their foundation.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has had its hand in a number of projects, from eradicating diseases in remote corners of the world to developing richer sources of food for impoverished people.
Gates reportedly paid $21 million for his private jet back in 1997. It has definitely come in handy as he travels to far-flung places for his charity work. “Owning a plane is a guilty pleasure,” he said during an AMA on Reddit. “I do get to a lot of places for Foundation work I wouldn’t be able to go to without it.”
In 2010, Bill and Melinda teamed up with Warren Buffett to start a campaign called “The Giving Pledge,” which encouraged fellow billionaires to donate at least half of their wealth to philanthropy. Paul Allen, Larry Ellison, Steve Case, and Mark Zuckerberg are among those who have signed the pledge so far.
Gates has made a number of investments in startups like Hampton Creek, which aims to find plant replacements for eggs. He is also backing several projects developing next-generation condoms, in the hopes that they could help stop the spread of HIV and AIDS.