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Life Success Of Bill Gates

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3853 words Published: 2nd May 2017

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The traditional definition of leadership by Webster dictionary states it’s an interpersonal influence directed towards the achievement of a goal or goals. Leadership is a dynamic relationship based on mutual influence and common purpose between leaders and collaborators in which both are moved to higher levels of motivation and moral development as they affect real, intended change (Friedberg K and Friedberg J, 1996).

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Using the key words here such as influence and change, history has her fair share of leaders. In 1974, TIME magazine published a special section on history greatest leaders where a variety of individuals were asked to name their selection and a large number of people were nominated. Each for a different reason but mostly because they created a culture of influence and brought upon change.

With the myriad of eligible entrepreneurs contesting to be great leaders of today, we dissect and analyse the lives of two living legends that have become household names in the world, William H Gates and Oprah Gail Winfrey. Two distinct individuals driven by ambition have become the core subject of business educators to delve into what makes them great leaders and like the old mythology, the search of the Holy Grail (Pearce T 2003).

Famously known as Bill Gates, an American businessman, philanthropist, software executive and founding father of Microsoft Corporation, he is also the world’s second richest person (Forbes Magazine 2010). He is one of the best known entrepreneurs of personal computers revolution (Bellis M, nd).

Oprah Winfrey a television host, producer, philanthropist and one of the most influential women in the society today, was ranked the richest African-American of the 20th century. She is credited for revolutionising the intimate confessional form of media communication (Wikipedia).


“A personal computer in every desk and in every home” (Keegan, Davidson & Brill, 2003) A simple vision made him possibly the greatest visionary of our times. Bill Gates born to a prominent defence lawyer and a school teacher was introduced to computers at a very young age. He was enrolled in Lakeside Elementary School when his parents noticed his deep interest in computer and programming. After dabbling in various programming software, he developed his first software programme for controlling traffic under Traf-Data and sold it for $20000 (Paluri R K, nd). Following the release of MITS Altair 8800 based on the Intel 8080CPU in 1975, Gates and his best friend Allen started their own software company Microsoft. In 1976, when Microsoft was registered with the Office of the Secretary of the State of New Mexico, Gates dropped out of Harvard (Wikipedia).

From releasing a version of FORTRAN language for microcomputers in 1977, they went on to introduce a version of COBOL 1978. In 1979, a new version for BASIC was developed by Microsoft. Gates focused on product development, harvesting best talents and intelligence, and introducing innovative and aggressive marketing strategies transforming Microsoft from a million dollar company in 1978 to a market leader in software with revenues in billion dollars by 2002 (Des Dear Love 2002).

Resigning as CEO in 2000 to spend time with software architecture and passing the torch to Steve Ballmer, his childhood friend, he and his wife Melinda have built a foundation to support philanthropic initiations on global health and education (Fritz J, nd).


Oprah Gail Winfrey born in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother is an African American television host, for the multi-award winning, self-titled talk show. She is also the greatest black philanthropist known to date who is one of the most influential women today (Wikipedia).

Raised in a difficult childhood in a ghetto and an abusive one, she was not only raped by relatives but also got pregnant at the age of 14. Oprah Winfrey’s life turned when she lived with her father in Nashville and attended high school there. She was academically successful and became an incredible speaker which earned her a scholarship to Tennessee State University (Fry E). With her publicity at being a good speaker in University she landed her first job as a television co-anchor. Graduating with a degree in communications she became a news anchor at WLAC-TV in Nashville, later in Baltimore for the 6 o clock news. In 1984 she hosted AM Chicago which became the highest rated talk show within a year. The show was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986. In 1988, she founded Harpo Studios (Harpo Inc.) to take over the show. In 1990, movies projects, she ventured into acting projects and gradually progressing to the launch of O, The Oprah Magazine. The initiation of Oprah’s Book Club started her multimedia breakthrough. In 1987, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation and in 1997, Oprah’s Angel Network was founded respectively for charity (Allen S).

Oprahs’ talk show is all about encouraging the people’s potential, making them feel safe and affirming their personhood (Davis P).

Oprah Winfrey once said “As a young child I had a vision, not of what I wanted to accomplish but I knew that my current circumstances would change.” That dream propelled her to success (Entertainment Executive 1991).


Leadership theories have evolved through the years beginning from archaic ideas such as The Great Man Theory being self explanatory to more civilised, refined concepts.

The trait approach identified a group of traits were positively associated with leadership such as intelligence, self confidence, initiative and persistence. However this is in no relation to effectiveness (Stogdill 1948, 1974).

The behavioural approach took focus on two dimensions creating leadership styles; task-oriented behaviour and relation-oriented behaviour (Stogdill 1948) on organizational outcomes (Blake & Mouton 1964).

These approaches pay too much attention to the leaders’ perspective not considering the followers.

The situational leadership model ( Hersey and Blanchard,1982) emphasises leadership flexibility and adaptation, the contingency model (Fiedler,1967) is much more consistent with less flexibility and the path-goal theory (House and Mitchell, 1974) assumes that leadership styles not only vary with different subordinates but in different situations. This theory is based on the assumption that situation moderator variables are easily identified but it is subjective to individual inference which change the actions and outcomes.

Servant leadership stems from the notion that leadership arises out of a desire to serve rather than a desire to lead (Katzenberg and Smith, 1994). Asking questions, providing opportunities and seeking a common understanding instead of consensus to make any particular decisions were thought to be qualities that make a leader.

Transactional leadership has remained the organisational model which is built around a person who needs to get a job done, has power and perks, striving to work in the current system with short term goals. The shift to use transformational leadership has more meaning with morals and ethics, focusing on missions and strategies, making it more meaningful and challenging with long term goals (Liu J and Liu X, 2006)

Leadership is a complex process in which leaders, followers and the situation interact with each other usually one or the other theories overlap in reality.


Using Kouzes J and Posner B survey as a basis where common characteristics of leaders were formulated after interviewing 75,000 people, below are the characteristics present in both of our personalities discussed.


PASSIONATE – He is a Harvard dropout (Richard D). While it is every Americans dream to be selected into Harvard University, he stopped his education halfway with the strong passion to pursue his dream for software architecture.

VISIONARY – A computer on every desk and Microsoft software on every computer (Paluri RK). This is a dream that propelled Gates to his overwhelming success and realising that dream proves him to be a far visionary.

INTELLIGENT – Starting at a very young age he began dabbling at computer programming (Walter I). He believes in intelligence and with that you can achieve almost anything in the world. His parents observed their sons intellectual capacity and enrolled him in private school (Wikipedia).

INNOVATIVE – Creating new versions of FORTRAN, BASIC and created MS – DOS for personal computers (Des DearLove). He also realised that internet was taking the world over by storm and not to be left out in the rat race he incorporated Web in his advancement. He spoke in April 2002 that in the upcoming “digital decade” the tools created in the next 10 years will be “the best tools for empowerment and productivity the world has ever seen.”( Krames J A)

STAFF ORIENTED – He coined the phrase digital nervous system to speak of a culture that encourages the workforce not only to think but to share their thoughts (Gates 2002). His company engages in a ritual known as” THINK WEEK” twice a year where he reads almost 100 mails and ideas from his employees (Dvorak D).

COMPETITIVE – Constantly meeting rivalry such as Apple, Google. With the advent of Windows system, Microsoft won over the rivalry of format with Apple (Richard D). His competitive nature suggests that to maintain high standards in the global economy is innovation and hiring a workforce that consists of the worlds’ brightest minds (Gates 2007).

DIVERSE – Employment of staff from around the world harnessing intelligence (Krames J A, 2003). He gained even popularity in China during his visit there with his charisma. (Microsoft Presspass, 2003)

HUMBLE – The idea is not just to make money but to give something in return, the knowledge and the software. Evident in his character is the fact that he employs his own childhood friends or individuals he knew from his past to participate in the rise of Microsoft. He values the people he comes to meet and know such as Steve Ballmer and Paul Allen.

CREDIBILITY – Though the government opened antitrust trial against Microsoft challenging Bill Gates credibility where it accuses Microsoft of bundling its internet explorer browser with its Windows OS to eliminate Netscape’s Navigator browser (Brinkley J, 1998)

ENTHUSIASTIC -He has shown his zeal in many of his undertakings such as business, golf, and donations (Lesinski, 2007).

CONFIDENCE – At an early stage he was confident he could sell his idea to a huge company like IBM and made it materialize (Des DearLove)

TRUSTWORTHY – His team constituted of people he worked and studied with and brought only his trusted friends to start a small team (Wikipedia)

PHILANTHROPIST- Funnelling large amounts of his wealth through The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to raise standards in health and education. Caring for the lesser fortuned population despite having abundant wealth (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).

ASSERTIVENESS – Due to multilevel and cross-sectional communication between his employees he is able to know their needs and respect their opinions while maintaining his goal (Gates 2002).


ENTREPRENEURSHIP – She transformed from media talk show host to media industry mogul millionaire. As a simple girl who ventured into news anchoring, she surpassed many obstacles to become one of the most renowned individuals in the movie or television industry. Harpo Inc is an active supplier of motion pictures, produces not only Oprah’s talk show but also produces Rachel Ray’s, Dr Phil’s and Dr Oz’s shows (Wikipedia.)

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CONFIDENCE – As told to business partner Gayle King “I don’t know what the future holds but I know who holds it” (Baldoni J, 2008). To be a successful black in the movie industry which is dominated by the Americans’ is a formidable task. Oprah once said, “It is confidence in our bodies, minds and spirits that allows us to keep looking for new adventures, new directions to grow in, and new lessons to learn – which is what life is all about” (Fry E).

INNOVATIVE – Though the mainstay of her career is the confessional form of talk show, she went on to create Harpo Productions Inc, Harpo Films Inc, Harpo Studios Inc, and Harpo videos. She expanded her empire by forming Oxygen Media LLC which includes a women cable TV network and internet site. In 2000, O magazine was launched (Jet 2003).

INTELLIGENCE – Though she had an unstable childhood that did not deter her from obtaining a degree in mass communications from Tennessee State University and carving her path in the entertainment industry

INFLUENTIAL – Changing the lives of many Africans and African Americans especially the down trodden. The 66th U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice describes her as a woman of moral character and source of strength for millions of her admirers (Rice C, 2006).

INTEGRITY – She is true t her work and keeps control of her products and her image not over marketing it. She believed in keeping control of her branding and being in control of Harpo Inc. (Baldoni J, 2008).

CHANGE – She is people driven bringing change to the lives of the young African girls. She used her past as a lesson and channelled it to a positive growth and lesson for others. Her metamorphosis is certainly laudable.

PHILANTROPHIST – Starting the Oprah Winfrey foundation to support the education and empowerment of women, children and families in the United States and around the world. Her caring nature allows her to empathize with the unfortunate. Post hurricane Katrina, she donated her own money to build new home for 65 families. She is also actively campaigning victims of abuse to find justice so that they can move on. She is championing her cause with the sole message that “I did it, so can you” (Rice C, 2006).

CREATIVITY – She created a reality show hosted by Nate Berkus called the Big Give encouraging others to give and aid the less fortunate. She also formed Oprah’s Angel Network to inspire people to make a difference.

STRENGTH – Despite coming from a dysfunctional home and being molested by family she managed to make the mess of her life into a message for other women. Most individuals tend to cocoon themselves to cope with the post traumatic stress disorders or rebel at life due to dysfunctional family background but she is proof of dealing with misfortune in a positive manner.

HARDWORKING – She worked her way to the top with her skills and opportunities strewn in her way.

VISIONARY – The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls inspired by her humble beginnings to provide educational and leadership opportunities to academically gifted girls from impoverished background. She became a visionary for others after obtaining such success in her life.

TALENTED – She is not only an honours student, winning oratory contests and skilled in public speaking, she has indulged in acting in movies, became a famous talk show host and television programmer.



Gates was a young visionary who had a dream which he ambitioned to full fill. He was born into a family of standing who valued his intelligence and supported him in his undertakings. Winfrey was a lady who was presented with an opportunity and she used that chance to create a dream and then envisioned a future. Coming from a past of difficult times without supportive parents, it was a bold and courageous move to achieve what she has today.

Two different upbringings and knowledge foundation but both proved to be great leaders of our time. Gates was an intelligent individual but a university dropout by choice, but Winfrey used her education and oratory skills to propel her forward. Both are leaders using different foundations to grow. This shows the use of situational leadership in their decision making.


6.2.1 Transformational

Gates and Winfrey both exerted transformational leadership qualities. In the early days of Microsoft’s birth, Gates was more transactional, he was driven to get his vision across, and using the position he held, he focused on tactical issues on a daily basis. He relied on the existing structure to maximise his output. Using MS DOS as a foundation to license it and sell it to other personal computers (Richards D). Software programming was the mainstay of his indulgence and finding the core programmes was a challenge. When IBM approached him to do his programming it was his breakthrough in the networking world. He wanted more and with that dream Microsoft was born. Gradually when he left IBM he transformed Microsoft to be an organization which identified human potential and talents with larger mission and strategies, had long term goals which had more meaning( Wikipedia). He kept redesigning jobs to keep them challenging.

Winfrey was not a leader in her early years, being a struggling African American herself; she paved her career with short term goals and opportunity. When she had her breakthrough she practised more situational leadership qualities to ensure she made improvements and progress based on needs and ideals of the populations. She took what was offered to her and climbed gradually to the top.

Her transformations were based on change. She brought change to the African society in general and mostly the women. She transformed the thoughts of people to rise from the ghettos and reach for the stars. She generously gave hope (Allen S, nd ). She also managed to penetrate the white dominated entertainment industry though acceptance of a black woman was an issue.


Both individuals are influential to mankind, creating a class of believe and a sense of idolism in the world they have introduced a metamorphosis in the entertainment and technological revolution. Microsoft and Bill Gates are almost synonyms in the computing world (Gates 2008). The blacks mainly from the African continent are faithful and devout worshippers of Winfrey (Black Enterprise).


Winfrey has been described as a person with warmth and deep love, an abiding commitment to the principles of goodness and generosity that transcend any individual (Rice C, 2006). Melinda Gates seeing that malaria was a transmittable disease in the African continent causing the death of millions decided that it was a vacuum that does need to be stepped into. Melinda and Gates Foundation provide more than a third of worlds entire malaria-research funding. They also funded the creation of a synthetic form of artemisinic acid, a drug to combat malaria (Bower A, 2006). Their magnanimous natures of caring for the population and channelling financial aid to the needy have made them both philanthropic idols (Alleyne S, nd & The New York Times June 2010).


Gates does not only thrive on profit, if he did he would not have stepped down as CEO and allow Steve Ballman to continue, instead he moved to concentrate on his primary passion that is software programming and actively nurturing his charity foundation. Winfrey too does not make business decisions purely based on profit. She develops partnerships and ventures in instinct and utility (Alleyne S 2008).

Employee relationship

Gates usually involves his employees in the think tank of Microsoft, having twice yearly meetings to harvest new ideas or resolve old issues. His relationship is purely business like in nature (Dvorak D). He is almost beaureaucratic in leading with his employees though financially rewarded are tired of being overworked and have temporarily opted out. His monopolistic character in the early days of Microsoft gradually transformed from an autonomous approach to be involved only with the broad strategy (Heller R, 2006).

However Oprah being in touch with her emotional perspective of nature thinks taking care of employees and rewarding them occasionally is the path to be a good leader. Debbie McElroy, a head hunter for the Lucas group said, “Employees get a six week vacation in their first week at Harpo. The pay and benefits are exceptional.” (SellersP, nd). Named as the World’s Greatest Boss by the Chicago-Sun Times newspaper, she went cruising with 1,700 employees all expense paid in 2009. In 2005, it was a company vacation to Hawaii (Bieganski M, 2009).


What makes a good leader? Leadership can vary depending on situation and background of the leader. The personalities chosen to define leadership in this assignment are from different backgrounds, Oprah being from a dysfunctional and uneducated family and Gates from an educated and family of standing in society. The two individuals are also yin and yang in race; one is a white American and the other of African American origin. They differ in the upbringing, values, goals and vision in life. The industries they are involved in are different, Oprah in the entertainment industry and Gates in the software industry. Nevertheless, amazingly both of them are leaders of the generation today. Both are successful, talented and influential billionaires. The similarities they share also include their common interest in philanthropy and giving away their earnings to the population to help the needy and to connect to the population.

Both these leaders are charismatic, but Gates is through his business skills and Oprah is through her general caring nature and love for people. Oprah does not believe in doing the marketing her business, over merchandizing her products and always kept in control the on goings of her company allowing her partner only 10% of the business control. Whereas Bill Gates handed over the day to day affairs in 2000 to Steve Ballmer and finally resigned in 2007 to completely hand over the business to his partner. He practised empowerment as part of his leadership quality but Oprah though allowing others to carry out the designated jobs approval was always maintained by her.

Both our leaders in the assignment are with varied qualities; however, they are still great leaders of our generation.


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