Inside the successful life of Melinda French Gates
Melinda French Gates is most widely recognised as the former wife of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, but her identity and success extend far beyond the tag of 'a billionaire's ex-wife'.
As the co-chairperson of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she is one of the most powerful women in philanthropy.
Her net worth is estimated to be US$10.8 billion according to Bloomberg as of April, 2022.
The power couple announced their divorce back in May 2021 after 27 years of marriage and three children – Jennifer, Phoebe, and Rory. However their philanthropical partnership continuous through the foundation which focuses on helping reduce global inequities.
In a recent interview with the Sunday Times, Bill Gates said his marriage to ex-wife Melinda French Gates was “great” and he would choose to marry her “all over again”.
“I wouldn't have changed it. You know, I wouldn't choose to marry someone else,” the Microsoft founder said.
When Bill and Melinda first met, she was already working at Microsoft as a product manager.
The duo met in 1987 at a Microsoft conference dinner and the rest was history. But Melinda was a distinguished figure long before the business magnate popped the question in 1994.
Here's a look at her life before marriage and her endeavours following the divorce.
She was a top student in school
Born into a Catholic family, French grew up in Dallas, Texas, with her parents - a stay-at-home mother and an aerospace-engineer father - and her three siblings.
She developed an interest in computer science while studying at St. Monica Catholic School, where she was the top student in her class.
Her father introduced her to the Apple II which further piqued her interest in computer games and programming language.
She graduated as valedictorian from Ursuline Academy of Dallas in 1982 and earned a bachelor's degree in computer science and economics from Duke University in 1986.
She also holds a Masters in Business from Duke's Fuqua School of Business.
She was a marketing manager with Microsoft
While still in college, French tutored children in mathematics and computer programming.
Soon after graduation, she was recruited by Microsoft shortly after the company went public and its stock began to rise.
She served as project manager of Microsoft Bob, Encarta, Cinemania, Publisher, Word and Expedia during her time at Microsoft and held the position of General Manager of Information Products until 1996.
Member of several esteemed institutions
From 1996 to 2003, French served as a member of Duke University's Board of Trustees.
She has also been generous to her alma mater and gifted them The French Family Science Center, the University Scholars Program, and the DukeEngage Program.
Since 2004, she has attended the annual Bilderberg Group conference and has held a seat on the Board of Directors of Graham Holdings (formerly The Washington Post Company).
She was also on the board of directors at Drugstore.com until August 2006.
A generous philanthropist
French is known as one of the most prolific philanthropists in the world.
As co-chairperson, she led the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation almost on her own for the first six years of operation.
She helped shape and approve the foundation’s strategies, reviews results, and sets the organisation’s overall direction.
The Foundation was set up to enhance healthcare, reduce extreme global poverty and to expand educational opportunities in the United States.
In 2020, it was reported to be the second largest charitable foundation in the world, holding US$49.8 billion in assets.
As an advocate of women's and girls' rights, she created Pivotal Ventures in 2015 as a separate independent organisation to identify, help develop and implement innovative solutions to problems affecting US women and families.
Following her divorce from Bill Gates in 2021, she announced that she no longer plans to give away the bulk of her wealth via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but will continue to do so via her own platform Pivot.
She will continue pledging US$1 billion over ten years to fight pivotal issues within America, such as national paid leave, young people’s mental health and gender equality, according to the The Wall Street Journal.
A successful author
French debuted as an author in 2019 with the book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World. It was a New York Times bestseller.
She said she wrote The Moment of Lift "to spark conversations about the steps we can all take toward gender equality."
She has also co-authored Famine, Affluence, and Morality along with Australian philosopher Peter Singer and The Mother and Child Project along with Australian activist Christine Caine.