“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” These are the words of Bill Gates. We all know him as the Co-founder of Microsoft, and amongst the world’s richest men (in fact, currently he is THE richest). Yes, Bill Gates is wealthy. But not all his wealth comes from currency stashed away in banks and bonds. For the man is truly blessed in another form of wealth as well: Riches called ‘wisdom’. Gathered over an eventful journey that saw him take on amazing challenges, cross memorable milestones and change the world in his own, unique way.
Bill Gates was recently in India, with the goal of understanding the business climate of the healthcare sector in the country (amongst other objectives, I’m sure) from personalities who are involved in it deeply. I, along with some others from the domain - managed to find a window (no pun intended) to meet up with this modern-day legend. While the meeting hovered around several burning issues that, in Mr. Gates’ opinion, merited urgent attention - that was not the only outcome from the rendezvous. At a personal level, I was enriched with 3 distinct ‘takeaways’ from the meeting. Precious learnings from a man who is smart enough to be super successful, yet not be seduced by its trappings.
Here are the 3 things I will never forget from my meeting with Bill Gates.
There were several of us at the meeting. Each one of us had serious issues to put forward to the iconic business leader turned philanthropist. As it turned out, we also had a strict mandate from the organizers – none of us could exceed 8 minutes as we shared our ideas. For Bill Gates, it translated into an avalanche of thoughts that had to be consumed in a ridiculously short span of time. A lesser mortal would perhaps have ‘choked’, or only pretended to follow. Not Mr. Gates. I found him listen intently to every word that was uttered, make notes patiently and profusely (not once did his pen stop scribbling), and perhaps most importantly, not intrude or interrupt the speaker even once. It was a sublime exhibition of how true leaders get their message across, often by saying less. In this case, Bill’s message was stark, “If you seriously want to learn something, speak less and listen more.”
Of all the professional ‘traits’ regularly discussed in boardrooms around the world, punctuality usually finds a mention only towards the end. If at all. Amongst the most under-rated and ignored values of our times, punctuality regains its rightful place of pride in the book of Bill Gates. Yes, this is a man who follows time the hands of the clock like a shadow. He appeared at our meeting at the exact minute he was supposed to. Was generous enough to give each one of us a patient hearing and yet ‘calculating’ when it came to allocating time individually. And left – with a gracious moment of camaraderie with all of us – dot on the time mentioned in the event brochure. “Time is money”, it is often said. And Mr. Gates is the world’s richest man. The connection between the two was suddenly crystal clear to me.
There is another quote that is attributed to Bill Gates : “Take on a big enough mission.” What it means is simple. Don’t mix up your daily job targets with your life’s true calling. Have a goal beyond your existential, livelihood aspirations. In Bill’s case, it is solving knotty problems around the world (such as healthcare challenges), especially ones that governments find hard to overcome. After leaving Microsoft, Bill became a full-time philanthropist and today, along with Melinda Gates, is among the world’s most generous ‘givers’. This passion is what makes great people actually great, and was evident at the meeting too. Bill’s devotion to healthcare, and his earnest desire to make a difference, came through in every measured syllable he uttered.
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