Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is one of the richest men in the world — and with good reason. He helped revolutionize the world by putting a computer on every desk.
Gates is worth $128.1 billion today, according to Forbes, so his financial wisdom is not to be ignored. Learn what advice Gates has to give about work and money.
Last updated: July 21, 2021
Invest In Your Education
Wait, didn’t Gates drop out of Harvard? Yes, he did. But in a 2014 Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread, someone asked, “What is your best personal financial advice for people who make under $100,000 a year?” His answer: “Invest in your education.”
People 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree have a weekly median earning of $1,457 compared to $793 for those with only a high school diploma, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But you could get more than higher wages with an advanced degree.
At a Harvard commencement speech in 2007, Gates reflected on his stint at the school. “What I remember above all about Harvard was being in the midst of so much energy and intelligence. It could be exhilarating, intimidating, sometimes even discouraging, but always challenging. It was an amazing privilege — and though I left early, I was transformed by my years at Harvard, the friendships I made, and the ideas I worked on.”
Embrace Your Critics
A willingness to meet consumer needs has helped Microsoft thrive in the fast-paced sector of technology. Over the years, the company has strived to stay ahead — or at least on top of — trends. In 2020, for example, the company not only used Microsoft Teams in conjunction with the NBA to sit fans courtside, but it also worked with NASA to help build the Orion spacecraft and teamed up with Ireland to increase green energy usage on rooftops.
In his 1999 book, “Business @ the Speed of Thought,” Gates wrote about the importance of negative feedback. He said it is important to embrace criticism to not only learn but find solutions for emerging problems.
“Listen to your customers and take their bad news as an opportunity to turn your failures into the concrete improvements they want,” he wrote. “You should examine customer complaints more often than company financials.”
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Look at the Big Picture
No matter how ambitious you are, there are still only 24 hours in a day. And often, the difference between the successful and unsuccessful is how those hours are invested. No one knows that better than Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world. He says his friend Warren Buffett taught him to look at the effects of using your time wisely. “He talks about looking for a company’s moat — its competitive advantage — and whether the moat is shrinking or growing,” Gates wrote in a LinkedIn article.
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“Optimism is often dismissed as false hope,” Gates said at a 2014 commencement address at Stanford University. “But there is also false hopelessness.” In that speech, Bill spoke at length about his faith in optimism and the important role this habit plays in solving problems.
Optimism — and by extension, happiness — can have a positive impact in your workplace. A 2014 study from the University of Warwick found that happiness can make people about 12% more productive. So rather than let work stresses weigh on you, invest in things that make you happy — it could make life easier.
Think Critically About Your Success
In his 1995 book “The Road Ahead,” Gates wrote that failure often teaches you more about succeeding than success. Moreover, success can be dangerous — if you let it get to your head.
“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose,” he wrote.
Measure Your Progress
In his 2013 annual letter for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates wrote about a book he was reading, “The Most Powerful Idea in the World.” It was about the invention of the steam engine, but Gates drew an important lesson from it.
“In the past year I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition,” he wrote. “You can achieve amazing progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal.”
It might sound like basic advice, but he said he was amazed at how seldom it was followed and how hard it was to get right. If you own a business or just want to want to improve yourself, look to programs that help you set and track goals. Even a simple list on paper can help you get started toward reaching goals.
Share Your Wealth
It’s certainly easy for one of the richest men in the world to dismiss the value of excess wealth. But Gates doesn’t diminish the importance of having money as much as suggesting that it only goes so far. At the University of Washington in 2011, Gates said:
“I can understand wanting to have millions of dollars, there’s a certain freedom, meaningful freedom, that comes with that. But once you get much beyond that, I have to tell you, it’s the same hamburger.”
This in part explains why Gates is one of the most philanthropic persons on Earth. He realizes that one of the true values of having excess wealth is the ability to help others.
Your Actions Can Have Global Impact
Bill and Melinda Gates published an open message to the graduating class of 2020 to inspire them to be global citizens:
“You inherit a world that has already proven that progress is possible— a world that has rebuilt after war, vanquished smallpox, fed a growing population, and enabled more than a billion people to climb out of extreme poverty.
That progress didn’t happen by accident or fate. It was the result of people just like you who made a commitment that whatever else they did with their lives and careers, they would contribute to this shared mission of propelling us all forward.”
Even in the midst of a global pandemic and economic upheaval, committed individuals can play a huge role in recovery.
Don’t Over-Endow Your Kids
While Bill Gates isn’t stingy, he thinks that giving too much wealth to your children isn’t the best thing.
“It’s not that good an idea for your kids to give them a whole ton of money,” Gates said in an October 2019 speech.
Gates agrees with his good friend Warren Buffett, who in a 1986 Fortune Magazine article was quoted as saying that he wanted to leave his kids “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.”
Prepare for Lower Investment Returns
With interest rates at record lows, the yields on T-bills and other conservative investments aren’t very high. This is part of the reason that Bill Gates currently keeps over 60% of his invested assets in stocks.
However, Gates cautions that investors shouldn’t expect the gangbuster double-digit returns they may have experienced in the past. In a September 2019 interview on Bloomberg Television, the famous billionaire stated, “there’s reasons to think absolute returns for the next decade will be less than they have been for the last several decades.”
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