BILL GATES is famous for his inability to sit still. In meetings he
rocks back and forth with pent-up energy, as if he were a small boy
waiting to burst from his chair. When walking down halls he has
been known to spontaneously leap upward.
If he ever jumps as successfully as he runs a business he'll be the
first human to reach orbit from a standing start. Critics may call
him a monopolist, decry his business tactics, and complain
Microsoft technology isn't that great. But it's hard to deny that
William Henry Gates III is one of the most successful business
leaders of this or any other age, for that matter.
He's America's richest man, the king of computer techies, the
patron saint of those who wear pocket protectors. To millions
worldwide he is the most visible symbol of a technological
revolution. To others, he symbolizes the danger that this
revolution is concentrating power too narrowly.
The CEO of Microsoft Corporation may be better groomed now than he
was when the personal-computer software industry was a relative
business backwater. He no longer walks around with his glasses as
dirty as an old windshield. His hair is better cut, his clothes
Not that this means he wears Armani suits. At a recent presentation
on interactive TV, the Internet, and "wallet PCs", Gates spoke
wearing an argyle sweater. What hasn't changed is his passion for
technology: seeing a computer in every home, on every desk, and
"information at your fingertips."
Having carved out a virtual monopoly in the basic software that
runs PCs, he is busy trying to expand into new fields of
technology. Yet success doesn't seem to have gone to his head,
analysts say. He is so competitive that he runs scared even in
areas where Microsoft dominates.
"Gates is as tight with a buck as he ever was," says Mark
Macgillivray, managing director of H&M Consulting in Sunnyvale,
Calif. Gates watches that Microsoft's division's don't get flabby
even as they add workers and rush to create new products.
Others in the industry have as clear a sense of where technology is
headed over the next 20 years. Gates is known more as a shrewd
businessman than as a technical wizard or visionary futurist. He
stands apart in his ability to map out orderly steps to make the
vision reality, says Jesse Berst, editorial director of Windows
Watcher, a newsletter about Microsoft.
Gates is "a chess player who can see several moves ahead of his
opponents," Mr. Berst says.
"His timing is impeccable," agrees Mark Anderson, a consultant and
founder of Technology Alliance Partners in Friday Harbor, Wash.
But it is not clear whether Gates, who loves strategy games such as
bridge and poker, will be able to keep his winning streak alive
Observers say Microsoft's dominance of the software industry could
be stopped by an unforeseen technology shift, or by the actions of
rivals or government antitrust lawyers. The company could even be
slowed by its sheer size and scope of its own activities. …