WSJ News Exclusive | Microsoft Executives Told Bill Gates to Stop Emailing a Female Staffer Years Ago

The 2019 letter from a

Microsoft Corp.

MSFT 0.48%

engineer reporting an affair with

Invoice Gates

that preceded his exit from the board wasn’t the primary time some Microsoft administrators encountered the billionaire’s inappropriate habits with feminine workers.

Greater than a decade earlier, Microsoft executives found emails between Mr. Gates and a midlevel feminine worker on the firm whereas Mr. Gates was nonetheless an worker at Microsoft and chairman of the board, in accordance with folks accustomed to the matter. Within the messages, the then-married Mr. Gates was flirtatious and propositioned the feminine worker, the folks stated.

Two high Microsoft executives, then-Basic Counsel

Brad Smith

and then-Chief Folks Officer

Lisa Brummel,

met with Mr. Gates and advised him the habits was inappropriate and wanted to cease, the folks stated. Mr. Gates didn’t deny the exchanges, advised the executives in hindsight it wasn’t a good suggestion and stated that he would cease, the folks stated.

The executives briefed some members of Microsoft’s board, the folks stated, and a board committee mentioned the matter. The board concluded no additional motion was warranted as a result of there wasn’t bodily interplay, the folks stated.

Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw stated that in 2008, shortly earlier than Mr. Gates retired as a full-time worker, the corporate grew to become conscious of the emails despatched in 2007. Within the emails, Mr. Gates proposed assembly the feminine worker exterior of labor and off campus, Mr. Shaw stated. “Whereas flirtatious, they weren’t overtly sexual, however have been deemed to be inappropriate,” he stated. Mr. Shaw stated the worker by no means made a grievance concerning the incident, which hasn’t been beforehand reported.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Gates,

Bridgitt Arnold,

stated in a written assertion: “These claims are false, recycled rumors from sources who haven’t any direct data, and in some instances have important conflicts of curiosity.”

Mr. Gates, one of many world’s richest folks, was Microsoft’s chief executive until 2000, a full-time worker till 2008 and chairman till 2014. He served on the Microsoft board for greater than 4 many years till he resigned his seat in March 2020. The next yr, Mr. Gates and his spouse,

Melinda French Gates,

filed to end their marriage of 27 years. The divorce was finalized in August. The 2 proceed to collectively lead the Invoice & Melinda Gates Basis, considered one of the world’s largest philanthropies.

On the time Mr. Gates resigned from the Microsoft board, a board committee had employed a regulation agency to research a feminine engineer’s 2019 letter alleging a previous sexual relationship with Mr. Gates, The Wall Road Journal reported in Might. This wasn’t the identical girl that Mr. Gates earlier had been warned to not pursue, a number of the folks accustomed to the matter stated. Mr. Shaw stated that the connection occurred round 2002 however Microsoft didn’t turn out to be conscious of it till 2019.

The Journal has since realized extra particulars about how Microsoft’s board managed the 2019 investigation. Mr. Smith, who’s now Microsoft’s president and vice chair, and CEO

Satya Nadella

have been among the many executives who reviewed the 2019 letter, in accordance with folks accustomed to the matter.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, in glasses, and President and Vice Chair Brad Smith throughout the firm’s annual shareholders assembly in 2017.


David Ryder/Bloomberg Information

Microsoft’s board chair on the time,

John W. Thompson,

requested different members of the committee reviewing the letter to not share the existence of the investigation with the total Microsoft board citing issues concerning the delicate nature of the matter, the folks stated. Board members who learn the letter needed to return their copy to Microsoft’s normal counsel, the folks stated.

A number of legal professionals who advise boards stated that sometimes, when a board decides whether or not to conduct an investigation, the total board decides to maneuver ahead for approval and the total board is conscious of a unbroken investigation.

“Should you’re going to conduct an investigation that wants unbiased advisers, you want board approval,” stated David Berger, a associate who makes a speciality of company governance at regulation agency Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati, who additionally advises boards.

Microsoft’s Mr. Shaw stated beneath the board’s governance tips, it delegated the nominating and governance committee authority to rent exterior legal professionals. “Whereas governance greatest practices are at all times evolving, the Board Chair and the Committee, with recommendation from exterior authorized counsel, determined to make use of the duty given to it and transfer ahead with the preliminary phases of the evaluation, recognizing that the matter may then transfer to the total Board in its later phases,” he stated in a written assertion.

Mr. Gates relinquished his board seat after some administrators determined he ought to step down however earlier than the investigation was accomplished, the Journal beforehand reported. Mr. Gates’s spokeswoman has stated he had an affair nearly 20 years in the past, it ended amicably and the board’s evaluation performed no function in his departure. Microsoft stated the board committee performed an intensive evaluation and offered help to the worker who made the grievance.

Invoice Gates, proven at a convention in 2008, served on the Microsoft board for greater than 4 many years.


Toshiyuki Aizawa/BLOOMBERG NEWS

A number of present and former Microsoft board members and executives stated they believed the issues about Mr. Gates’s habits with feminine workers have been correctly dealt with. They stated attitudes and protocols have modified in recent times with the #MeToo motion.

Maria Klawe,

a Microsoft director from 2009 to 2015 who stated she wasn’t conscious of any issues about Mr. Gates and feminine workers, stated extra broadly she felt he behaved at instances as if guidelines didn’t apply to him.

“He actually seemed that he felt that he had a standing that gave him a selected, a set of rights, that different folks wouldn’t have,” stated Ms. Klawe, president of math and science-focused Harvey Mudd School.

Mr. Shaw and Ms. Arnold, the spokeswoman for Mr. Gates, declined to touch upon Ms. Klawe’s remarks.

A lot sooner than the 2019 letter and the 2007 emails, no less than one Microsoft board member was notified by a high government a couple of romantic relationship that Mr. Gates, then the CEO, was having with a feminine Microsoft government in 1992, in accordance with an individual accustomed to the matter. The total board wasn’t knowledgeable of the matter, the individual stated. The girl wasn’t Ms. French Gates, this individual stated.

Ms. French Gates was a Microsoft worker when she first met Mr. Gates in 1987. They married in 1994 and Ms. French Gates stopped working at Microsoft in 1996, the identical yr the couple had the primary of their three youngsters.

Mr. Shaw stated Microsoft isn’t conscious of any report of a priority raised a couple of romantic relationship between Mr. Gates and a feminine worker in that time-frame. Ms. Arnold declined to remark.

Mr. Gates stays a technical adviser to Mr. Nadella, who took over as Microsoft’s board chair in June for Mr. Thompson, who’s now lead unbiased director. A Microsoft spokesman stated on the time the chairman change was unrelated to Mr. Gates’s exit from the board.

“He’s very engaged on issues that he cares about,” Mr. Nadella stated when requested about Mr. Gates throughout a latest convention. Mr. Nadella stated that the corporate had modified from when Mr. Gates was its chief and that he and his group have been accountable for shaping its present office tradition. “We’re not good by any stretch,” Mr. Nadella stated, “however we care deeply about all matters of our tradition and we’re working it day-after-day.”

Extra Invoice Gates Protection

Additional WSJ protection of Mr. Gates, chosen by the editors.

Write to Emily Glazer at [email protected]

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