Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates may add a board of directors to their foundation

Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates may add an outside board of directors to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as the couple divorces, it has been reported.

Gates and French Gates, who have co-chaired their foundation for about 20 years, are discussing structural changes to the philanthropic foundation pushed for by French Gates to ensure its ‘future stability,’ sources told The Wall Street Journal.

Mark Suzman, the Gates Foundation’s CEO who handles its daily operations after joining the foundation in 2007, told the outlet in a statement that ‘no decisions have been made’ regarding any changes.

‘Bill and Melinda have reaffirmed their commitment to the foundation and continue to work together on behalf of our mission. These discussions are part of their prudent planning for the future,’ he said. 

Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates may add an outside board of directors to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as the couple divorces

A media representative said in an email to The Guardian that Bill and Melinda will remain co-chairs and trustees at the foundation.

‘No changes to their roles or the organization are planned,’ the statement said. ‘They will continue to work together to shape and approve foundation strategies, advocate for the foundation’s issues, and set the organization’s overall direction.’

According to the website for the Gates Foundation, the nonprofit was organized into a two-tier structure in October 2006 when The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust were created.

Mark Suzman, the Gates Foundation's CEO, said in a statement that 'no decisions have been made' regarding any changes

Mark Suzman, the Gates Foundation’s CEO, said in a statement that ‘no decisions have been made’ regarding any changes 

The foundation has become one of the most powerful and influential forces in global public health with spending of more than $50 billion over the past two decades. 

The Gates Foundation currently has an endowment of about $49.9 billion, according to its website. The foundation’s trustees are Bill Gates, Melinda French Gates, and billionaire Warren Buffett.  

Buffett could not be reached for comment, and it was not immediately clear how the restructuring might affect the Berkshire Hathaway billionaire.

According to the foundation’s website, the primary role of the separate trust is to manage the investment assets and transfer proceeds to the foundation as necessary to achieve the foundation’s charitable goals. 

It was also not immediately clear if the creation of a board of directors for the foundation would impact the the trust as well.

Both Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates have indicated they will remain involved with the foundation. 

Adding a board of outside directors to the foundation could bring in people not emotionally tied or invested in the couple’s divorce – adding an objective check-and-balance to perhaps differing visions from the foundations current co-chairs.

‘Balance and perspective are helpful, so bringing on a couple of members with no personal or business ties to the family can widen your point of view,’ Boardable noted in a blog post.

Another common reason for building a board of directors is that the board assumes the responsibility for the achievements or failures within an organization – creating an extra layer of separation for its founders.  

Billionaire Warren Buffett, one of the foundation's three trustees, is pictured

Billionaire Warren Buffett, one of the foundation’s three trustees, is pictured

Adding a board of directors could take the weight and liability of the foundation’s performance off of any single trustee – whether its Bill Gates, Melinda French Gates, or Warren Buffett. 

Thad Calabrese, an associate professor of financial management at NYU Wagner, told The Guardian that the foundation is fundamentally a separate entity from their personal money or their wealth.

‘So it’s not as if the foundation is going to be divided up in the divorce,’ he said.

He said that The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will continue to exist and that its current endowment cannot be removed.

However, Calabrese also speculated to the outlet that divorce could affect future contributions to the foundation from any of the three trustees or lead it to focus on different areas of interest.

Adding a board of trustees could either safeguard the foundation’s current interests or lead it into new areas. 

The divorce comes amid stories about Bill Gates’ affair, in 2000, with a Microsoft employee and revelations of his ties with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

French Gates hired divorce lawyers in 2019 after meetings that Gates had with Epstein became public.

Epstein, who had been charged with sexually abusing dozens of young girls in the early 2000s, died by suicide while in custody in 2019. 

French Gates was said to have been deeply uncomfortable with Epstein after their first meeting, and urged her husband to steer clear of the pedophile financier.

A foundation spokesperson told The Guardian that ‘the foundation never had any financial dealings with Jeffrey Epstein’. 

French Gates was also said to be unhappy with an investigation into Bill Gates’ money manager Michael Larson, in 2018, which ended with the woman involved receiving a payoff.  

Bill Gates’s longtime money manager ‘rated the looks of female colleagues, showed nude photos of women in the office, bullied staff and made a racist remark to one employee’ 

Michael Larson, 61, has managed Bill Gates's money for the past 27 years

Michael Larson, 61, has managed Bill Gates’s money for the past 27 years

Bill Gates’s money manager shared nude photos of women in the office, rated female colleagues on their looks and made racist and sexually-offensive remarks, former employees have claimed.

They described Michael Larson, 61, as an infamous bully who disparaged his female staff and humiliated those around him.

At a work Christmas party in the mid-2000s, sources told The New York Times that Larson was seated outdoors with a small group of male employees after dinner, with three female colleagues standing about 20 feet away.

‘Which one of them do you wanna f***,’ Larson asked them.

When a female staff member was attending Weight Watchers, Larson allegedly asked if it was to lose weight for him.

Another woman at his firm was allegedly asked by Larson if she would strip for a certain amount of money. 

One woman who managed a local bike store complained that Larson repeatedly propositioned her, according to The New York Times.

Ybarra was hired in 2001 as an investor relations analyst. In 2004 Larson made racist comments

Ybarra was hired in 2001 as an investor relations analyst. In 2004 Larson made racist comments

She repeatedly rebuffed him, but she claimed – in a lawyer’s letter sent to the Gateses, threatening to sue – that he had exposed himself to her, and said he wanted to have sex with her and another woman.

Bill Gates agreed to settle the matter by having a payment made to the bike store manager, the paper reported.

Melinda Gates insisted that an outside investigator review the incident and Cascade’s culture – an investigation that took place in 2018, as Larson went on leave.

He returned in 2019; Melinda was said to be unsatisfied by the outcome. 

In November of one election year, Larson asked his staff about the best time to vote for the presidential election.

Stacy Ybarra, who joined the company in 2001 as an investor relations analyst, replied that she had voted that morning without having to wait in line.

‘But you live in the ghetto, and everybody knows that black people don’t vote,’ Larson responded, according to The New York Times’ sources.  

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