The two principal co-founders of Microsoft Corp., Paul Allen and Bill Gates, have both left a huge mark on the region and the world because of the concentration of personal massive wealth and their willingness to use that wealth to express their passions, quirks, and visions. Allen is reportedly just the 26th richest man in America at 61 years of age. He has spread his cash, and a lot of it, in things beyond his mega-yacht, two professional sports franchises (the Blazers and Seahawks), University of Washington buildings, spaceships, foundations, and lots of prime real-estate in the Seattle area. A guitar enthusiast, he helped to fund and build the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum. Located next to the Seattle Center, this wildly shaped interactive museum, designed by Frank Gehry, pays homage in its name to Seattle’s favorite native-son guitar legend, Jimi Hendrix, as well as Allen’s love of all things science and science fiction.
Gates, at 58, has a net worth of about $76 billion, according to press reports. He remains atop the list of the United States’ mega-billionaires. As many know from countless sponsorship promos, he launched his vaunted and sometimes criticized Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 1997, in no small part due to his very savvy wife’s influence. The Foundation reportedly has assets now valued at nearly $39 billion. It remains focussed on global health initiatives, technological innovations to improve global and maternal health, poverty reduction, information technology access, and education. The Foundation’s world headquarters literally sits across the street from the EMP.
For us normal and not-so-wealthy folks in Seattle, we are in the shadow of these very rich and influential super-rich billionaires many times over. I recommend any Seattle visitor check out both facilities. In a short walk, you can gaze upon the manifestations of these two mens’ very large egos that continue to shape not only Seattle, but in the Foundation’s case, quite literally direct the global health agenda. Now that is true power beyond the software running on my desktop and laptops.