Bill Gates says he was only ruthless when it came to low prices


Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that’s taken over our lives.

Bill Gates says he was only ruthless when it came to low prices

Bill Gates. Not ruthless.

Bloomberg/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

In days gone by, it was rumored that Microsoft was a fairly harsh place.

Competition among departments and even individual employees was gruesome.

Naturally, many suggested this came from the top.

Co-founder Bill Gates, in particular, was said to be chillingly objective. Appearing on the popular BBC show “Desert Island Discs” on Sunday — in which famous people choose the music they would take to a desert island — Gates offered a little nuance to his reputation.

He admitted to being somewhat headstrong even at an early age. At 12, he said his parents sent him to a child psychologist.

“I was a bit disruptive,” he said. “I started early on sort of questioning were their rules logical and always to be followed, so there was kind of a bit of tension there as I was kind of pushing back.”

One can imagine a young Gates being quite good at pushing back. At Microsoft, however, he was known for pushing forward with some force.

He admitted that in the early days of Microsoft, he was a touch obsessive.

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“I was quite fanatical about work. I worked weekends, I didn’t really believe in vacations,” he said. “I had to be a little careful not to try and apply my standards to how hard they [employees] worked.”

“Quite fanatical?” Well, here’s an example: “I knew everybody’s license plate so I could look out in the parking lot and see when did people come in, when were they leaving,” he said.

Gates is keen, though, to insist he wasn’t ruthless in business. How could anyone have got that impression, even though Microsoft seemed to rather insist that customers buy all its software whether they liked it or not?

“Well, I was only ruthless if you define having super-low prices (for Microsoft products) as ruthless,” he said.

I think that’s what they call ruthless logic.

As for his taste in music, it’s far less ruthless — everything from David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure” to “Can Love Survive” from “The Sound of Music.”

The whole 45-minute program is worth listening to.

You might be stunned to learn that in high school Gates was “below average” in talking to girls. Now that sounds ruthlessly honest.