Copyright (C) Playboy Enterprises, Inc. 1994
[...continued from previous page]PLAYBOY: Even though your parents are well off on their own, how have they reacted to your extreme wealth?
GATES: I don't show it to them. I hide it from them. I have it buried in the lawn. It's bulging a little bit, and I hope it doesn't rain.
PLAYBOY: Bad bet, living in Seattle.
GATES: My money is meaningless to them. Meaningless. It has no effect on anything I do with my parents. [Pauses] If somebody's sick we can get the best doctors, so it has that impact. But we talk about things that money doesn't affect.
PLAYBOY: We're not suggesting that you talk only about money.
GATES: We never talk about money.
PLAYBOY: Does your net worth of multi-billions, despite the fact that it's mostly in stock and the value varies daily, boggle your mind?
GATES: It's a ridiculous number. But remember, 95 percent of it I'm just going to give away. [Smiles] Don't tell people to write me letters. I'm saving that for when I'm in my 50s. It's a lot to give away and it's going to take time.
PLAYBOY: Where will you donate it?
GATES: To charitable things, scientific things. I don't believe in burdening any children I might have with that. They'll have enough. They'll be comfortable.
PLAYBOY: Youll give them only a billion, maybe?
GATES: No, no, are you kidding? Nothing like that. One percent of that.
PLAYBOY: But they'll grow up thinking, Gee, if Dad leaves me some of the money. . . .
GATES: I'll make it clear that it'll be a modest amount.
PLAYBOY: So you want them to be as self-made as you?
GATES: No, that's not the point. The point is that ridiculous sums of money can be confusing.
PLAYBOY: In general, or only to the young or inexperienced?
GATES: I think to anyone.
PLAYBOY: Is it confusing to you?
GATES: I'm very well grounded because of my parents and my job and what I believe in. Some people ask me why I don't own a plane, for instance. Why? Because you can get used to that kind of stuff, and I think that's bad. It takes you away from normal experiences in a way that is probably debilitating. So I control that kind of thing intentionally. It's one of those discipline things. If my discipline ever broke down it would confuse me, too. So I try to prevent that.
PLAYBOY: So why not give the kid a billion dollars and let him try to control it as well?
GATES: Not earning it yourself, knowing you have it from a young age, being so different in that respect from the other kids you grow up with, would be very confusing.
PLAYBOY: Won't your being their dad be confusing enough?
GATES: I will seek to minimize that in every way possible. I'll be as creative as I can. That experience is bad for a kid.
PLAYBOY: How do you entertain yourself with your money?
GATES: I swallow quarters, burn dollar bills, that kind of thing. I mean, when I buy golf balls I buy used golf balls, and that entertains me. Ha, ha, ha.
GATES: I'm building a house. It has serious functions, but entertainment is most of it. It has a screening room. And I'm putting in these huge video screens and buying the digital rights to the world's masterpieces and all sorts of art. I guess that's indulgent.
PLAYBOY: Rumor has it the house is mostly underground.
GATES: Completely false.
PLAYBOY: When will it be done?
GATES: I thought it would take four years. It will take five, then I'll move into the project.
PLAYBOY: What else entertains you?
GATES: I like to learn. I like puzzles. Ive even played some golf the past year and a half, because everybody else in my family does. Actually, right now I'm a little addicted. I get a kick out of being out there on the green grass. I'm just getting into the 90s now.
PLAYBOY: We hear you don't watch TV.
GATES: I do watch television. I don't have any TVs with their over-the-air receivers connected in my house. But when I'm in a hotel room or other places that have a TV, then I turn it on and flip the channels just like everybody else. I was watching cartoons on Nickelodeon on Sunday. Its amazing.
PLAYBOY: What was on?
GATES: Ren & Stimpy and Rugrats. Great! Cartoons have improved a lot since I was a kid. I'm not immune to the lures of television. I just try to stay away from it because I like to read. PLAYBOY: What do you read?
GATES: The Economist, every page. Also The Wall Street Journal and Business Week. And I read Time. If I'm traveling, every once in a while I'll pick up an issue of People. I read USA Today.
PLAYBOY: What's the most random thing you read?
GATES: Fiction. That's true randomness. My older sister has read all the trashy books. So, occasionally, I have her recommend one. Otherwise, I'm in the same traffic as everybody else. I'm in the same airplane delay as everybody else. I sit in the same coach seat as everybody else. Yeah, I'm here in meetings all day. Here at Microsoft I work hard. There are a lot of experiences I haven't had. There are a lot of sitcoms I haven't seen. I haven't had a child yet. There are religions I don't belong to. I think we all have our own slice of life. I eat at McDonald's more than most people, but that's because I don't cook.
PLAYBOY: You're back to eating meat?
GATES: Yes. That was only a three-year period when I was proving to myself I could do it. But in terms of fast food and deep understanding of the culture of fast food, I'm your man.
PLAYBOY: Jack-in-the-Box? McDonald's?
GATES: Well, McDonald's is more pervasive around here. We also have Jack-in-the-Box. I'm not the kind of guy who decides that just because a few people got sick, it's necessarily going to happen to me. It wasn't very crowded for a while, but I thought that was fine.
PLAYBOY: The recent biographies of Bill Gates and Microsoft, Gates and Hard Drive, both explore the mythology that's developed about your quirks, habits and exploits. We'd like to sort the actual from the apocryphal.
PLAYBOY: We'll start with an easy one. It's always written that you rock compulsively in your chair, and we can attest that you're doing it now and have been for most of this interview.
PLAYBOY: What about your penchant for driving fast and accumulating speeding tickets?
GATES: [Smiles] I get fewer speeding tickets than I used to.
PLAYBOY: Did you once get a cop fired for giving you a speeding ticket?
GATES: Thats false.
PLAYBOY: What about the story that while driving from Albuquerque to Seattle, you got three speeding tickets in one day from the same cop?
GATES: No, no, no. I've always told the truth about that one. I got twospeeding tickets from the same cop. Two. Not three. I got three tickets on the drive, but only two from the same cop. But I don't think anybody ever suggested that I said I got three from the same cop.
PLAYBOY: There's the story that your mother chooses your clothes and helps you color-coordinate by pinning them together this from a former girlfriend, who seems to repeat it without incurring your disapproval.
GATES: There was one point in my life when my mother was trying to explain to me about what color shirt to wear with what ties. But this goes way back. And I think people listen to their mother's advice when it relates to fashion. It's not an area in which I claim to know more than she does. And it's not that much effort to pick one shirt versus the other. I don't look down at the color I'm wearing during the day. So if it pleases other people that I know a little bit more about which shirt to pick with which tie, thats fine. At that time I didn't know much about it. I think I know a little bit about it now, but below average.
PLAYBOY: Is it true that you cornered the market in McGovern-Eagleton buttons after Eagleton was dumped as a running mate?
GATES: It's certainly true that I made a lot of money selling McGovern-Eagleton campaign buttons. I'll be glad to show them to you, but I don't think it matters how much I made. It doesn't aggrandize me when things get less and less accurate the farther they get from the source.
PLAYBOY: Next: the $242 that you supposedly paid for a pizza to be delivered one night.
GATES: That is just reporters' randomness to the max.
PLAYBOY: Did you have a million-dollar trust fund while you were at Harvard?
GATES: Not true. [Throws up his hands, stands and starts pacing] Where does this randomness come from? You think it's a better myth to have started with a bunch of money and made money than to have started without? In what sense? My parents are very successful, and I went to the nicest private school in the Seattle area. I was lucky. But I never had any trust funds of any kind, though my dad did pay my tuition at Harvard, which was quite expensive.
PLAYBOY: How did he feel when you dropped out?
GATES: I told him it was a leave of absence, that I was going back.
PLAYBOY: Nice move.
GATES: Hey, if I had completely failed I would have gone back, of course. Harvard was willing to take me back. I was a student on leave.
PLAYBOY: When you were at Harvard, did you frequent the Combat Zone, home of hookers, drugs and adult films?
GATES: That's true. [Laughs] But just because I went there doesn't mean I engaged in everything that was going on. But I did go there. It's easy, you just take the subway. And it's pretty inexpensive. I ate pizza, read books and watched what was going on. I went to the diners.
PLAYBOY: Ever take LSD?
GATES: My errant youth ended a long time ago.
PLAYBOY: What does that mean?
GATES: That means there were things I did under the age of 25 that I ended up not doing subsequently.
PLAYBOY: One LSD story involved you staring at a table and thinking the corner was going to plunge into your eye.
PLAYBOY: Ah, a glimmer of recognition.
GATES: That was on the other side of that boundary. The young mind can deal with certain kinds of gooping around that I don't think at this age I could. I don't think you're as capable of handling lack of sleep or whatever challenges you throw at your body as you get older. However, I never missed a day of work.
PLAYBOY: Here's the wildest rumor: You once trolled Seattle in a limo looking for hookers.
GATES: No, no, that is not true. A Korean friend of mine in high school rented a limousine one night, and we went to Burger Master. He liked one of the girls there, so he thought it would be fun to pull up in a limousine and leave a big tip at this drive-in place. But that is quite a metamorphosis from this nice hamburger girl to something more lurid. This isn't the rock-and-roll industry. The computer industry doesn't have groupies like rock does.
PLAYBOY: Really? You've been described by one of your own people as Bill Gates, rock star. Wasn't there a young woman in Mensa, from Atlanta, who said she needed some software for her Mac which you delivered personally?
GATES: Who told you that? I sent it to her. There are elements of truth in all mythology, along with a good dose of exaggeration that I have not contributed to. Here's the point: People think, Hey, here's this guy, he's single, has all this success, isn't he taking advantage of it a little bit? I mean, geez, just a little bit?
PLAYBOY: And the answer?
GATES: Those people wouldn't be completely disappointed. They'd be somewhat disappointed because at night they'd find me sitting at home reading the molecular biology of the gene or just working late, or just lying around doing new deals and things like that. My job is about the most fun thing I do, but I have a broad set of interests, going places, reading things, doing things.
PLAYBOY: And when you do fly, you fly in coach.
GATES: It's quite a mix there. I fly coach when I'm in the U.S. on business. But when I fly to Europe, I fly business class. When I go to Trailblazers games with Paul Allen, I fly on the plane he owns. I also drive my own car.