Poor Ol' Gigadollar

Despite the big hoo-ha coming from the Left Coast about Big Money, I have a confession to make.

I wouldn’t want to be Bill Gates. I think having a huge fortune is overrated. And I think he agrees with me.

Think about it. Bill Gates can’t go to the mall. The only way he can get a decent meal at most restaurants is to buy out the whole restaurant. He used to enjoy flying coach. Now he has to get the whole plane.

Even co-workers look at you different when you’re Gigadollar Bill. I know Gates has always enjoyed having a lot of “bandwidth” (intelligence), and enjoys demonstrating that bandwidth. The obsession with bandwidth is a basic part of the Microsoft corporate culture.

But since his fortune passed that of Sam Walton, how can Bill be certain that his underlings’ enjoyment of his bandwidth isn’t just obsequiousness? When was the last time someone called you clueless to your face, Bill? (I thought so.)

The good news is I think Gigadollar agrees with me. If you ask him, he’ll probably say the biggest change in his life over the last few years has been his children, not his growing fortune. I think his decision to give away the fortune (over time) has brought him closer to both his father and his late mother, and I think that feels good to him. I think his aim is also to make sure the fortune doesn’t become a burden to the kids.

Growing up as Bill Gates’ kids will be hard enough without being the 21st century’s “poor little rich girl” (or boy). Yeah, they will inherit a small pile, but Gigadollar will be happier if they inherit his values.

Bill Gates’ good example should be a cautionary tale to the IPO-obsessed of Silicon Valley. It’s no longer enough there to serve customers, to do a good job, to grow employment and expand the bottom line. It’s no longer enough to enjoy your work and make a good living for your kids.

If you’re not getting rich, you wonder what the point is. I’m afraid that columns like Michael Tchong’s Jacobytes in Iconocast and Laura Rich’s “The Rich List” in the Industry Standard are most representative of today’s Silicon Valley. To me, it smells more like the 1890s than the 1990s. (That period also had a larger-than-life Gates, and his is also a cautionary tale.)

Well, I have something to say to that zeitgeist, and I hope ol’ Gigadollar agrees with me on this one. Bunk.

It’s nice to have a big house, fancy cars, your own plane and a private golf course. It’s nicer to have enough to pay the mortgage, a pile of laundry that needs attention, soccer practice and a minivan with a broken taillight, if your job makes you happy.

It’s the job and the kids, not the champagne and the caviar, that really counts.

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