In July 1991, a 35-year-old Bill Gates was reluctant to make friends with some guy who moved money around for a living. Despite friends and family’s insistence, Gates wasn’t keen to drive a few hours to meet this Warren Buffett, then 60, who everyone was talking about.
That friendship has changed the face of American philanthropy. Writing on his blog, Gates remembers his initial resistance and the phone conversation he had with his mother, Mary Gates, that changed his mind about meeting Buffett.
In 1991, when my mother called me to come out to our vacation home on Hood Canal to meet a group of friends, including Warren, I didn’t want to go. I told her I was too busy at work. Warren would be interesting, my mother insisted. But I wasn’t convinced. “Look, he just buys and sells pieces of paper. That’s not real value added. I don’t think we’d have much in common,” I told her. Eventually, she persuaded me to go.
Mary Gates was a lifelong philanthropist who died in 1994 from breast cancer. Gates’ parents, though they struggled to control their son, played powerful roles in his professional development.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Bill and Mary Gates clashed in the former’s early teenage years, when he began to develop intellectually and rebel against his mother’s rules of decorum at home. His parents took him to a therapist, who advised them to relax their control over their son.
Years later, when Gates dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft, they supported him. Later, it was Gates’s mother who suggested he devote some of his time and money to charity. Though he initially resisted, he agreed to allocate some Microsoft money to the charity United Way of America (now United Way Worldwide), where she held several leadership roles.
After she died, Gates’s father, William H. Gates Jr., urged his son to take philanthropy more seriously. Thus was born an early version of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, of which William H. Gates Jr. is a co-chair.
Today the foundation has a $39.6 billion endowment. Buffett serves as a trustee.