Gates divorce forces US$50bil foundation to weigh changes


Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates are considering making changes to their foundation in light of their recently announced divorce.

“As I told foundation employees last week, I’m actively discussing with Bill and Melinda steps they and Warren might take to strengthen the long-term sustainability and stability of the foundation,” Mark Suzman, the Gates Foundation’s chief executive officer, said in a statement Thursday, referring to billionaire Warren Buffett, the third member of the foundation’s board.

Suzman said no decisions have been made, but added that Bill and Melinda have “reaffirmed their commitment to the foundation and continue to work together on behalf of our mission”.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that they are also considering bringing in outside directors, citing people they didn’t identify. There are currently just three trustees: Gates, French Gates and Buffett, who has added more than US$27bil (RM111.76bil) of his own money to the foundation’s coffers over the past 15 years.

Three members

The three-person board is unusually small for a foundation of its size. The Ford Foundation, which is roughly a fifth the size of the Gates Foundation, has 15 members on its board. The Rockefeller Foundation, at a 10th of the size, has no fewer than 12 at any time.

When the couple announced their split earlier this month, a foundation spokesperson said in a statement that “no changes to their roles or the organisation are planned”.

In the weeks following the announcement, there have been several transfers of shares worth billions of dollars from Gates’s investment office, Cascade Investment, to French Gates.

Gates, 65, a Microsoft Corp co-founder, is the fourth-richest person in the world, with a net worth of US$144bil (RM596.08bil), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. – Bloomberg

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