The Gates Foundation, Walmart, and Caterpillar: Billion Dollar Businesses at Stake from Bill and Melinda's Divorce

“We will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe that we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.” So they advertised Bill and Melinda Gates their separation after almost three decades married. Despite the message of continuity, there are many questions regarding the future of the foundation that they created together more than 20 years ago, one of the most influential philanthropic projects in the world. The divorce also puts at stake the future of other companies such as Walmart, Caterpillar or the investment firm of Warren Buffet, all of which are owned by the Gates through the foundation that bears his name.

From the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation itself they have been quick to confirm that both will continue to be co-presidents and trustees. “No changes to their roles or the organization are planned. They will continue to work together to shape and endorse the foundation’s strategies, advocate for the foundation’s issues, and establish the overall direction of the organization.”

The Gates Foundation has 1,602 employees, according to its website, and has an endowment of nearly $ 50 billion. Among other investments, the foundation holds benchmark stakes in the shareholding of Walmart, one of the largest companies by market capitalization of the Fortune 500, the construction group Caterpillar or the investment company of Warren Buffet.

The Foundation supports causes such as the fight against health problems and global poverty, manages vaccination programs, gender equality and economic development in developing countries, and finances scholarships for students, among other initiatives. Since the start of the pandemic, the charity has invested at least $ 1.75 billion in fighting the virus, helping pay for the production and purchase of medical supplies.

In terms of assets and influence, the foundation “is the most important philanthropic trust in the world,” in the words of Benjamin Soskis, co-founder and editor of HistPhil. Soskis emphasizes in reference to divorce that, “to the extent that this has an effect on the foundation itself, it will have immense consequences.”

Walmart and Caterpillar

The foundation carries out all operations and grantmaking work and is the entity from which all investments are made. In this sense, Walmart ranks fifth on the Gates charity investment list and represents 7.48% of the overall Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust portfolio, with 11.6 million shares at a market value of nearly 1,400 million dollars (it is noteworthy that Walmart shares have risen 18% in the last twelve months).

Ahead is the investment of the foundation in Caterpillar Inc., a company in which he owns 11.2 million shares for a total value of 1.66 billion dollars. Waste Management is the second largest holding of the foundation, with more than 18.6 million shares valued at $ 2.12 billion, followed by a stake in the Canadian National Railway Company stock of some 17.1 billion shares worth about $ 1.54 billion. In addition, through the foundation, the Gates own a substantial equity stake in UPS and its main competitor, FedEx.

Warren Buffet

But without a doubt, the biggest bet in the diversified portfolio of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is Berkshire Hathaway, the investor Warren Buffet’s conglomerate. In fact, this is the foundation’s largest stake (50 million shares valued at more than $ 11 billion.)

Along with Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett is a trustee of the former’s foundation, where he plays a key role in defining and visioning philanthropic strategy. What’s more, in 2006, Buffett pledged most of his fortune to the Gates Foundation and to four charitable trusts created by his family: the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Susan A. Buffett Foundation, and the NoVo Foundation. (directed by Peter A. Buffett). His gift to the Gates Foundation consisted of 10 million Berkshire Hathaway shares.

In 2010, Buffet teamed up with Bill and his wife, Melinda, to launch ‘The Giving Pledge‘, an initiative that encourages the world’s richest people to donate most of their fortunes to charity. Leading by example, Bill Gates has donated nearly $ 36 billion in stock to date Microsoft to his own foundation, the world’s largest private philanthropic body.

Vegan farms and burgers

In early 2021, Bill and Melinda Gates broke another record: the country’s agricultural ownership in the hands of private investors. According to data collected by the American magazine The Land Report, Bill and Melinda Gates would have amassed the largest portfolio of private farmland in the United States, totaling about 242,000 acres. Asked about it at a Reddit event, Bill stressed that “the agricultural sector is important. With more productive seeds we can prevent deforestation and help Africa deal with the climatic difficulties they already face. It is not clear how cheap seeds can be. biofuels, but if they are cheap they can solve the emissions of aviation and trucks. “

In this regard, a spokesperson for Cascade Investment, an investment vehicle chaired and controlled by Bill Gates, confirmed in statements to The Land Report that from Cascade support sustainable agriculture. The truth is that the company is a shareholder of the producers of vegan meat and vegetable proteins Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, as well as the manufacturer of agricultural equipment John Deere.

Last January, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it is creating a non-profit entity called Gates Ag One which will seek to “accelerate efforts to provide smallholder farmers in developing countries, many of whom are women, access to affordable tools and innovations they need to sustainably improve crop productivity and adapt to the effects of change climate”.

Bill and Melinda Gates before lecturing in Sun Valley, Idaho in 2009.


Family heritage

At the moment, the terms of their separation are unknown, although it is known what each of their three children will inherit: 10 million dollars each, no more, no less. In a 2019 Ted talk, Bill Gates put his philosophy as a father on record. “We want to strike a balance where they have the freedom to do anything, but they can’t waste a lot of money so they can go out and do nothing,” the Microsoft founder explained at the time, adding that the rest of the money “will go to to charitable causes. “

Bill consistently appears on the world’s richest people lists (he currently holds fourth place on the Forbes billionaires list) with an estimated personal fortune of about $ 90 billion. Despite his departure from Microsoft, Bill Gates owns 1.37% of the outstanding shares of the company he founded. That stake is worth more than $ 26 billion, according to FactSet.

The Gates family has a net worth of more than $ 100 billion, according to data released by Bloomberg, and their separation could set records for the largest divorce settlement to date (only the family home in Seattle is valued at about $ 124 million).

After knowing the news, David Callahan, website founder Insider Philanthropy and author of The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age has echoed the doubts that assail those who are dedicated to the world of philanthropy, suggesting that Melinda Gates could still dedicate herself to her own altruistic work. “No one knows what the terms of her divorce agreement are. But if Melinda Gates keeps just a portion of that wealth and goes on to create her own foundation, she would probably be among the largest in America,” suggests Callahan. If so, the expert on philanthropy points out that it is most likely that “they both work together at the foundation, while each pursues their own independent philanthropy outside the foundation.”

This scenario does not seem implausible, since since 2015 the Gates have been defining their respective areas of interest. That year, Bill established Breakthrough Energy, an initiative to curb climate change, while Melinda began her journey as a strong advocate for the rights of women and girls.

Climate change and Covid

Gates has recognized many times his “obsession” with developing clean technology to fight climate change. In his new book, published last February, he sets out his findings and arguments for tackling climate change by reducing carbon emissions. “If you want to understand the kind of damage that climate change will inflict, look at what Covid is doing and then imagine spreading the pain over a much longer period of time.”

As a public face of Covid-19 grants and the foundation’s advocacy work, Bill Gates has come under fire of late for being a staunch advocate of the intellectual property rights of vaccine manufacturers. While the tech icon says protecting injection formulas will ensure incentives for research and development, critics say that mindset hinders supply in favor of drug companies’ profits.

Melinda’s popularity

The so far wife of the Microsoft founder has ‘rescued’ her maiden name in recent months, beginning to refer to herself as Melinda French Gates on websites and social networks.

Melinda joined Microsoft as a product manager in 1987, focusing on developing the company’s multimedia arm with projects such as Encarta Encyclopedia, Microsoft Bob, Expedia, Cinemania, and Publisher. Shortly after, he met Bill Gates at a company dinner. In 1991 they said ‘yes, I do’ in Hawaii and at age five, Melinda left her managerial position at the head of the Information Products business to dedicate herself to her family and philanthropy.

In 1994, together with his father-in-law, he founded the William H. Gates Foundation in 1994, which was combined in 1999 with the Gates Learning Foundation and the Gates Library Foundation, giving rise to what would be baptized as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. For seven years (1996–2003) he was a member of the board of directors of Duke University (1996-2003) and still sits on the board of directors of Duke University. Washington Post.

However, it would not be until two decades later that Melinda began to cultivate her own personal brand. In 2015 he founded Pivotal Ventures, an investment firm focused on women, and in 2019 published a book, The Moment of Lift, focused on female empowerment. He recently partnered with the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, MacKenzie Scott, to launch and promote El Desafío Equality Can’t Wait, an initiative that has raised $ 40 million to promote gender equality.

Among other recognitions for her work, Melinda has received the Jefferson Award for Best Public Service in Benefit of the Underprivileged (2002), she was named Person of the Year by the magazine Time In 2005, along with her husband and Irish singer Bono, she was ranked third on Forbes’ list of the 100 most powerful women in 2013 and 2014. In addition, she has received the Order of Merit of the British Empire (OBE), the Padma Bhushan of India (2015), the Presidential Medal of Freedom of the United States (2016), the Otto Hahn Peace Medal of Germany (2017) and that of the Legion of Honor of France (2017).


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