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Microsoft executives told Bill Gates a few years ago to stop sending emails to female staff

2019 letter

Microsoft Ltd

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Engineer reporting relationship with leading Bill Gates His exit from the board It wasn’t the first time that some Microsoft directors encountered improper behavior of millionaires with female employees.

More than a decade ago, Gates was still an employee of Microsoft and chair of the board, but Microsoft executives discovered an email between Gates and a mid-career female employee of the company, according to people familiar with the matter. bottom. In the message, people said Gates, who was married at the time, was capricious and offered a female employee.

Microsoft’s top executive Brad Smith and chief human resources officer Lisa Brummel met Gates and said the action was inappropriate and needed to be stopped. People said Gates didn’t deny the exchange and later thought it wasn’t a good idea to executives and said he would quit.

People said executives briefed some members of Microsoft’s board and the board committee discussed the issue. People said the board concluded that no further action was justified because there was no physical interaction.

Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw said the company noticed an email sent in 2007 in 2008, just before Gates retired as a full-time employee. Campus, Mr. Shaw said. “Although frivolous, they weren’t overtly sexual, but were considered inappropriate,” he said. Mr. Shaw said employees have never complained about the case, but this has not been reported before.

Gates spokeswoman Bridget Arnold said in a written statement:

Gates, one of the wealthiest people in the world, is from Microsoft Chief Executive Officer until 2000, Full-time employee until 2008, Chairman until 2014. He served on the board of Microsoft for over 40 years before resigning in March 2020.The following year, Gates and his wife Melinda French Gates Finish 27 years of marriage.. The divorce ended in August. The two continue to jointly lead the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The world’s largest philanthropy..

When Gates resigned from Microsoft’s board, a board committee hired a law firm to investigate the 2019 letter of a female engineer. Sexual relationship with Mr. GatesThe Wall Street Journal reported in May. This wasn’t the same woman Gates was previously warned not to chase, said some people familiar with the matter. Shaw said the relationship happened around 2002, but Microsoft didn’t realize it until 2019.

The journal has since learned more about how Microsoft’s board managed the 2019 survey. Smith, who is currently President and Vice Chairman of Microsoft, and Satya Nadella, CEO, were among the executives who reviewed the 2019 letter, according to people familiar with the matter.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wore glasses and served as President and Vice Chairman Brad Smith at the company’s 2017 Annual General Meeting of Shareholders.


Photo:

David Rider / Bloomberg News

John W. Thompson, then chairman of Microsoft’s board of directors, told other members of the committee reviewing the letter that there was an investigation into Microsoft’s board of directors because of concerns about the delicate nature of the matter. I asked not to share it with the whole. People said that the members of the board who read the letter had to return their copy to Microsoft’s legal counsel.

Several lawyers who advise the board usually decide that when the board decides whether to conduct an investigation, the entire board decides to move forward for approval, and the entire board of directors decides to move forward. He said he was aware of ongoing investigations.

“If an independent advisor conducts a required investigation, it requires board approval,” said David Berger, a corporate governance partner at law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati.

Microsoft’s Shaw said he delegated nomination and governance committee authority to hire an outside lawyer, based on the board’s governance guidelines. “Governance best practices are constantly evolving, but the Chairman and Committee have decided to take advantage of their responsibilities and move to the early stages of the review, with the advice of outside legal advisors. It is in the late stages of the board of directors. “

The journal previously reported that Gates abandoned board seats before the investigation was completed after some directors decided to resign. Gates spokeswoman said he had an affair almost 20 years ago, it ended amicably and the board review played no role in his departure. Microsoft said the board of directors conducted a thorough review and supported the employee who filed the complaint.

Announced at the 2008 conference, Bill Gates has been on Microsoft’s board of directors for over 40 years.


Photo:

Toshiyuki Aizawa / BLOOMBERG NEWS

Some of Microsoft’s current and former board members and executives said they believe Gates’ behavioral concerns about female employees have been properly addressed. They said attitudes and protocols have changed in recent years with the #MeToo movement.

Maria Clau, director of Microsoft from 2009 to 2015, who said she was unaware of concerns about Gates and her female employees, said she felt she acted from time to time as if the rules did not apply. rice field.

Clau, president of Harvey Mad College, with a focus on mathematics and science, said:

Gates spokespersons Shaw and Arnold declined to comment on Claw’s remarks.

Much earlier than the 2019 letter and 2007 email, at least one Microsoft board member was signed by then-CEO Gates with a female executive at Microsoft in 1992, according to one. I was notified by an executive about a romantic relationship. Familiar with the problem. The entire board was unaware of the issue, he said. The woman wasn’t French Gates, he said.

French Gates was a Microsoft employee when he first met Gates in 1987. They got married in 1994 French Gates quit his job at Microsoft in 1996. In the same year, the couple had the first of three children.

Mr Shaw said Microsoft was unaware of any reports of concerns raised about the relationship between Gates and the female employee in that time frame. Arnold declined to comment.

Gates continues to be Nadella’s technical advisor. Appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors of Microsoft in June For Mr. Thompson, who currently leads an independent director. A Microsoft spokesman said the change of chair at the time had nothing to do with Gates’ retirement from the board.

“He is very enthusiastic about what he cares about,” Nadella said when asked about Gates at a recent meeting. Nadella said the company has changed since Gates was a leader and that he and his team are responsible for shaping the current work culture. “We are not perfect at once, but we are deeply interested in all the topics of our culture and are working on them every day,” said Nadella.

More Bill Gates Coverage

Further WSJ coverage of Mr. Gates selected by the editor.

Write in Emily Glazer emily.glazer@wsj.com

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Microsoft executives told Bill Gates a few years ago to stop sending emails to female staff

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