Microsoft grapples with fallout from Bill Gates affair in unprecedented break from its past

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. (GeekWire File Photo)

Since becoming CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella has championed a growth mindset, pushing the company to continually evolve and learn from others and its own past. Now, the person most associated with that past is putting that mindset to the test.

Bill Gates. (John Keatley Photo)

In an interview on CNBC on Friday morning, host Jon Fortt asked Nadella to address the issue of Bill Gates’ acknowledged 2000 affair with a Microsoft employee, one of numerous revelations that have emerged in the aftermath of the Microsoft co-founder’s split with Melinda Gates.

“The Microsoft of 2021 is very different from the Microsoft of 2000,” Nadella said. “To me and to everyone at Microsoft, our focus on our culture, our diversity, our inclusion, and in particular the everyday experience of our people, is super important. It’s a huge priority. And not just in the abstract sense. It’s about the lived experience. This is about being able to confront your fixed mindset each day so that we can improve.”

He added, “Overall, the power dynamic in the workplace is not something that can be abused in any form, and the most important thing is for us to make sure that everybody is comfortable in being able to raise any issues they see, and for us to be able to fully investigate it.”

The need for Nadella to make such a statement illustrates the extraordinary situation that Gates has created for the company he started with Paul Allen in 1975.

From a practical standpoint, Microsoft’s Build developer conference will start tomorrow, and the issue risked becoming a distraction in press interviews if Nadella hadn’t addressed it in advance.

Microsoft previously issued this statement when the Wall Street Journal reported on the relationship.

“Microsoft received a concern in the latter half of 2019 that Bill Gates sought to initiate an intimate relationship with a company employee in the year 2000. A committee of the Board reviewed the concern, aided by an outside law firm, to conduct a thorough investigation. Throughout the investigation, Microsoft provided extensive support to the employee who raised the concern.”

The Wall Street Journal reported in its May 16 article that Microsoft’s board “decided that Bill Gates needed to step down from its board in 2020 as they pursued an investigation into the billionaire’s prior romantic relationship with a female Microsoft employee that was deemed inappropriate.”

At the time of his resignations from both the Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway boards in March of 2020, Gates said he wanted to devote more time to his work through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A spokesperson for Gates previously acknowledged the affair but disputed the WSJ report that the departure was related.

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