What Young Managers Can Learn from Bill Gates

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June 27, 2008 marked the last working day for Bill Gates at Microsoft. So much has been written and spoken about him that another column appears redundant.. The purpose of this post is to analyze what young managers can learn  from perhaps the most successful entrepreneur of our times.

  • Focus: Over more than thirty years, Bill Gates has demonstrated the importance of clarity of thought and execution. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not move away from the domain he understood better than anything else – software. He has pursued the objective of dominance in software in general and operating systems in particular that has few parallels. Venturing into unfamiliar territory may be fashionable but carries a high degree of risk. If ever a need arises for an absolute example for what Peters and Waterman called “Stick to the Knitting” and Hamel and Prahalad termed core competence, one needs to look no further than Bill Gates and Microsoft. Focus also means the ability to pursue one’s goals whatever the obstacles may be. Such a degree of perseverance is hard to come by.
  • Thinking big: Along with focus, the ability to dream big and pursue that with single-minded determination sets Gates apart from other entrepreneurs. This is particularly true of entrepreneurs from emerging economies like India where an ultra-conservative attitude has stifled growth. Entrepreneurs need to develop confidence in themselves and their team that they can take on the world and come out winners.
  • Passion: Simply put, if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well. From a simple thank you note to a complex proposal, it is critical to place the stamp of excellence on whatever one undertakes. Equally important is the need to constantly innovate. Change is the only constant and the more agile and adaptive we are to change, the more successful we can be.
  • Learning as a life-long process: Though he dropped out of college to launch his business, Bill Gates has probably read and written more than most of us ever will. In the process, he has shown the limits of formal education. Important as formal education is, perhaps it is more important to realize that learning is a life-long process. Knowledge is infinite. Even if we keep assimilating it without a break throughout a lifetime, we would not have scratched the surface. Knowledge should lead to humility and wisdom – not arrogance and one-upmanship.
  • Giving back to society: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has provided a new dimension to philanthropy by addressing issues that are global in nature – malaria, cancer, AIDS. Feeling good by doing good may appear old-fashioned but this may yet be the best way forward in combating diseases that kill or maim millions of people every year.. Bill Gates has shown a remarkable degree of consistency both in his business goals and in his goals in philanthropy – he is a global citizen.

As with any successful or great person, there will always be controversies. In an age where the distinction between means and ends is increasingly blurred, taking extreme positions hardly helps. One may not agree with Gates’ means for achieving what he has, but one would find it difficult to ignore his contributions to the IT industry. However, history and posterity will probably recognize him more for what he has decided to do – at a relatively young age – for the rest of his life. There cannot be many role models better than Bill Gates.

 


This post has been adapted from Bill Gates: Entrepreneur, Manager, and Leader by B V Krishnamurthy.

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