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How Business & Philanthropy are Intertwined

The cross pollination of Bill Gates and the United Way

Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Bill Gates interviewing his father during an event at the 92nd Street Y in New York in 2010. Credit:Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Today we look at the connections with the United Way and the parents of Bill Gates.

Mary Gates was a respected businesswoman with many responsibilities, including her membership on the board of non-profit organization United Way of King County (where she was also the first female president an the first woman to chair the national United Way’s executive committee). There, she met the late John Opel, then-chairman of IBM, who also was a member of the United Way Board. In 1980, Microsoft was a small, five-year-old firm and Mary saw an opportunity to help her son’s fledgling company by speaking with Opel, according to The New York Times.

How Bill Gates’ mom helped Microsoft get a deal with IBM in 1980

Bill Gates Sr. In addition to tackling some of the biggest challenges of this generation as co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Gates was a lifelong supporter of United Way and held volunteer roles as President of the Board of United Way of King County (WA) and later as a member of the United Way of America Board of Trustees. From 2000 to 2006, he provided support and guidance on the strategic direction of the organization, and he continued to offer valuable advice and counsel as United Way of America’s first Emeritus Trustee.

United Way Worldwide Mourns the Loss of Bill Gates, Sr.

Bill Gates As usual, there are lots of conflicting reports about the details that made this happen. But it mostly seems to be a case of Bill Gates and his company seeing the right opportunity at the right time and then executing well on the concept.

According to Fire in the Valley he also reportedly told Gates that when IBM CEO John Opel heard Microsoft would get the contract, he said “Oh, is that Mary Gates’ boy’s company?” Opel and Bill Gates’ mother served together on the national board of the United Way.

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