By the time Melinda French Gates decided to end her 27-year marriage, her husband was known globally as a software pioneer, a billionaire and a leading philanthropist.
But in some circles, Bill Gates had also developed a reputation for questionable conduct in work-related settings. That is attracting new scrutiny amid the breakup of one of the world’s richest, most powerful couples.
In 2018, Ms. French Gates wasn’t satisfied with her husband’s handling of a previously undisclosed sexual harassment claim against his longtime money manager, according to two people familiar with the matter. After Mr. Gates moved to settle the matter confidentially, Ms. French Gates insisted on an outside investigation. The money manager, Michael Larson, remains in his job.
On at least a few occasions, Mr. Gates pursued women who worked for him at Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to people with direct knowledge of his overtures. In meetings at the foundation, he was at times dismissive toward his wife, witnesses said.
public view, Ms. French Gates was unhappy. She hired divorce lawyers, setting in motion a process that culminated this month with the announcement that their marriage was ending.
a public appearance in 2016.
Long after they married in 1994, Mr. Gates would on occasion pursue women in the office.
In 2006, for example, he attended a presentation by a female Microsoft employee. Mr. Gates, who at the time was the company’s chairman, left the meeting and immediately emailed the woman to ask her out to dinner, according to two people familiar with the exchange.
“If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened,” Mr. Gates wrote in an email, according to a person who read it to The New York Times.
in a column in Time magazine announcing the pledge.
money manager, earning solid returns on the Gateses’ and the foundation’s combined $174 billion investment portfolio through a secretive operation called Cascade Investment. Cascade owned assets like stocks, bonds, hotels and vast tracts of farmland, and it also put the Gateses’ money in other investment vehicles. One was a venture capital firm called Rally Capital, which is in the same building that Cascade occupies in Kirkland, Wash.
Rally Capital had an ownership stake in a nearby bicycle shop. In 2017, the woman who managed the bike shop hired a lawyer, who wrote a letter to Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates.
The letter said that Mr. Larson had been sexually harassing the manager of the bike shop, according to three people familiar with the claim. The letter said the woman had tried to handle the situation on her own, without success, and she asked the Gateses for help. If they didn’t resolve the situation, the letter said, she might pursue legal action.
The woman reached a settlement in 2018 in which she signed a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for a payment, the three people said.
While Mr. Gates thought that brought the matter to an end, Ms. French Gates was not satisfied with the outcome, two of the people said. She called for a law firm to conduct an independent review of the woman’s allegations, and of Cascade’s culture. Mr. Larson was put on leave while the investigation was underway, but he was eventually reinstated. (It is unclear whether the investigation exonerated Mr. Larson.) He remains in charge of Cascade.
published an article detailing Mr. Gates’s relationship with Mr. Epstein. The article reported that the two men had spent time together on multiple occasions, flying on Mr. Epstein’s private jet and attending a late-night gathering at his Manhattan townhouse. “His lifestyle is very different and kind of intriguing although it would not work for me,” Mr. Gates emailed colleagues in 2011, after he first met Mr. Epstein.
(Ms. Arnold, the spokeswoman for Mr. Gates, said at the time that he regretted the relationship with Mr. Epstein. She said that Mr. Gates had been unaware that the plane belonged to Mr. Epstein and that Mr. Gates had been referring to the unique décor of Mr. Epstein’s home.)
The Times article included details about Mr. Gates’s interactions with Mr. Epstein that Ms. French Gates had not previously known, according to people familiar with the matter. Soon after its publication she began consulting with divorce lawyers and other advisers who would help the couple divide their assets, one of the people said. The Wall Street Journal previously reported the timing of her lawyers’ hiring.
The revelations in The Times were especially upsetting to Ms. French Gates because she had previously voiced her discomfort with her husband associating with Mr. Epstein, who died by suicide in federal custody in 2019, shortly after being charged with sex trafficking of girls. Ms. French Gates expressed her unease in the fall of 2013 after she and Mr. Gates had dinner with Mr. Epstein at his townhouse, according to people briefed on the dinner and its aftermath. (The incident was reported earlier by The Daily Beast.)
For years, Mr. Gates continued to go to dinners and meetings at Mr. Epstein’s home, where Mr. Epstein usually surrounded himself with young and attractive women, said two people who were there and two others who were told about the gatherings.
Ms. Arnold said Mr. Gates never socialized or attended parties with Mr. Epstein, and she denied that young and attractive women participated at their meetings. “Bill only met with Epstein to discuss philanthropy,” Ms. Arnold said.
On at least one occasion, Mr. Gates remarked in Mr. Epstein’s presence that he was unhappy in his marriage, according to people who heard the comments.
Leon Black, the head of Apollo Investments who had a multifaceted business and personal relationship with Mr. Epstein, according to two people familiar with the meeting. The meeting was held at Apollo’s New York offices.
It is unclear whether Ms. French Gates was aware of the latest meetings with Mr. Epstein. A person who recently spoke to her said that “she decided that it was best for her to leave her marriage as she moved into the next phase of her life.”
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C.D.C. surprised health experts, political leaders and others yesterday when it announced that vaccinated people could go maskless in most places, including indoors. The agency’s advice doesn’t override local and state rules, though at least seven states adopted its mask guidelines. Others, like New York, said they would study the new guidance before deciding whether to adopt it. That puts businesses in a tricky spot.
Companies with frontline workers aren’t sure what to do. Retailers likeMacy’s and the Gap said they were reviewing the new guidance, while Home Depot has not changed its rules requiring customers and workers to wear masks in its stores. Airlines and other transportation companies didn’t need to react, because federal guidelines still require masks for their industry.
sharp turnabout, Douglas Brayley, an employment lawyer at Ropes & Gray, told DealBook. Companies need to abide by local guidelines, but the change in federal guidance raises questions. How do large companies establish a common policy when local public health agencies may not agree? How to handle employees who are still uncertain about safety when protocols shift? How will companies find out whether employees are vaccinated, and thus determine if they need to wear a mask?
And what about the Yankees? Eight fully vaccinated members of the baseball team tested positive for the virus. Some may interpret it as a lesson for businesses when workplaces loosen their protocols for things like masking, even if a majority of employees are vaccinated. “For a little bit there, we were getting pretty comfortable, because that’s what the rules called for. Now, we’ll tighten it back up and hopefully everyone stays safe,” the Yankees pitcher Jameson Taillon told The Times. Others argue that the Yankees’ frequent testing makes asymptomatic cases more likely to be caught, and given that only one of the eight has shown symptoms, it’s a sign that the vaccines are effective.
What are the rules where you are? See reopening plans and mask mandates for all 50 states.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Colonial Pipeline paid a $5 million ransom to hackers. The payment, made in Bitcoin, came shortly after the company shut down its network — and, as a result, the pipeline that supplies almost half of the East Coast’s fuel — in response to a ransomware attack. In other hacking news, Ireland’s health system operator shut down today because of a ransomware attack, and a unit of Toshiba said that it had been targeted by DarkSide, the group blamed for the Colonial infiltration.
increase pay at its 650 company-owned restaurants to an average of $13 per hour. But about 95 percent of McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. are independently owned and will not be affected by the move.
A major teachers’ union called for schools to reopen. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has 1.7 million members, said of the next academic year, “There is no doubt: Schools must be open. In person. Five days a week.” Teachers’ unions have sought strict virus mitigation measures that some say have slowed reopening timelines.
Delta will require new hires to be vaccinated, making it one of the first major corporations to enact such a provision. The airline’s C.E.O., Ed Bastian, told CNN that the requirement wouldn’t extend to current employees, but he said that he expected up to 80 percent to get shots.
DoorDash tripled its revenue in the first quarter. Demand for food delivery does not seem to be dropping as restaurants reopen dining rooms. “The negative impact that we were expecting in consumer behavior was smaller than we were anticipating,” the company’s C.F.O., Prabir Adarkar, told The Wall Street Journal.
Crypto’s first earnings call
The crypto exchange Coinbase yesterday held its first earnings call since going public. Its bumper profit for the first quarter largely matched expectations set in its filings ahead of its I.P.O. last month, so the numbers didn’t raise many pressing questions from investors, who were able to submit queries online and vote for their favorites to put to management.
based on a meme, was, inevitably, the most popular and so it was asked first. “We plan to list Doge in six to eight weeks,” said Coinbase’s C.E.O., Brian Armstrong, noting that the company was looking to expand its assets and aimed to list new products faster.
met with regulators in Washington, Armstrong said, providing no specifics.
The company’s C.F.O., Alesia Haas, said that Coinbase was “bullish on the global market” and eager to expand internationally but that it needed licenses and bank partnerships, which take time.
Armstrong loves an internet reference. The company’s co-founder referred to this period in the crypto industry as similar to the internet’s infancy at least three times and at one point likened Coinbase to Google. The exchange welcomes competition, he said, just as “in the early days of the internet, Google wanted more websites out there.” But Coinbase isn’t looking to compete with rivals on fees, so if users had dreams of trading for free, as on the Robinhood app, they were dashed. “We do not believe in fee-less crypto trading,” Haas said.
digs into the Gates family fortune, estimated to be worth at least $124 billion, which includes a stake in the Four Seasons hotel chain, huge tracts of farmland, a beachfront mansion in Southern California and one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.
In the papers
Some of the academic research that caught our eye this week, summarized in one sentence:
poison pills, shareholder primacy and the purpose of companies, are now available in a digital archive.
The back story: Leo Strine, former chief justice of the Delaware Supreme Court and now at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, helped create the archive. “It has taken several years to do the coding of the memos, to draft a narrative that situates ML’s work in historical context, and that also, critically, provides links to the key cases, regulatory developments and scholars and advocates involved in the policy debates in which ML participated,” Strine said in an email. He worked on it with teams at Wachtell and Penn Law, where he teaches. An in-depth essay that serves as a guide to the archive, “Lipton and His Impact,” is the place to start.
Here are two of our favorite letters. One comes from the 1980s takeover era, when junk bonds drove Wall Street and the poison pill was invented by Lipton in response, and the other from more recently, 2018, in which Lipton frames his early thinking on anti-takeover measures in the context of focusing on all stakeholders, not just shareholders:
“Our Nation is blindly rushing to the precipice.” In his Oct. 28, 1988, memo, “Is This the End of Takeovers,” Lipton warned that “abusive takeover tactics” were saddling American companies with too much debt and forcing them to focus on short-term market results. “As with tulip bulbs, South Sea bubbles, pyramid investment trusts, Florida land, REITs, LDC loans, Texas banks and all the other financial market frenzies of the past, the denouement will be a crash,” he wrote, urging rules to rein in investors who “show no restraint and no regard for the public good.”
“It promotes inequality and strikes at the very heart of our society.” In his April 10, 2018, memo, “The Purpose of the Corporation,” Lipton took aim at Milton Friedman’s mantra that companies should serve shareholders above all, which he said led to the damaging short-termism that he had fought against in takeover battles throughout his career. Noting “important new support for counterbalancing shareholder primacy and promoting long-term sustainable investment” at firms like BlackRock (and later the Business Roundtable, among others) he lent his voice to a burgeoning movement.
THE SPEED READ
The rail operator Kansas City Southern said it had accepted Canadian National’s $33.6 billion takeover bid, upending a previous deal agreed with Canadian Pacific. (Reuters)
The activist short-seller Carson Block sent the insurer Lemonade a salty letter about alleged security flaws in its site, dropping the F-bomb in the opening sentence. (TechCrunch)
The “SPAC King” Chamath Palihapitiya isn’t worried about the blank-check boom turning to bust. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Politics and policy
Amazon, Apple, Google and other tech companies filed an amicus brief in a court case in support of spouses of H-1B visa holders’ right to work legally in the U.S. And in an op-ed, the Bridgewater C.E.O., David McCormick, calls for the U.S. to raise the cap on visas for highly skilled foreign workers. (Google, National Review)
“Beneath Joe Biden’s Folksy Demeanor, a Short Fuse and an Obsession With Details” (NYT)
Alibaba reported its first quarterly loss since going public, after paying a big antitrust penalty that China levied on the e-commerce giant. (NYT)
The I.R.S. and Justice Department have reportedly sought information about illicit activity on Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange. (Bloomberg)
An IBM executive said that the computer chip shortage could last another two years. (BBC)
Best of the rest
Tom Montag, Bank of America’s No. 2 executive, runs its markets and corporate banking division with favoritism and an iron fist, employees say. (NYT)
“How the superrich soaked up Covid cash.” (FT)
A conversation with a Dogecoin millionaire. (NYT)
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The fortune of Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates exceeds the size of Morocco’s annual economy, combines the value of Ford, Twitter and Marriott International and is triple the endowment of Harvard. While few know how their wealth will be divided in the divorce, one thing is clear: breaking it up can’t be easy.
Mr. Gates built one of the great fortunes in human history when he founded Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen. The Gateses’ net worth is estimated to be more than $124 billion, and includes assets as varied as trophy real estate, public company stocks and rare artifacts.
There’s a big stake in the luxury Four Seasons hotel chain. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and ranch land, including Buffalo Bill’s historic Wyoming ranch. There are billions of dollars’ worth of shares in companies like AutoNation and Waste Management. There’s a beachfront mansion in Southern California. And one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.
“The amount of money and the diversity of assets that are involved in this divorce boggles the imagination,” said David Aronson, a lawyer who has represented wealthy clients in divorce cases. “There have rarely been cases that are even close to this in size.”
2019 divorce between the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his now ex-wife, the novelist and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, was bigger. Mr. Bezos had an estimated fortune of $137 billion, though mostly in Amazon stock, and Ms. Scott kept 4 percent of Amazon’s shares, worth $36 billion at the time.
But Mr. Gates has for decades been diversifying his holdings; he owns just 1.3 percent of Microsoft. Instead, his stock portfolio includes stakes in dozens of publicly traded companies. He is the largest private owner of farmland in the country, according to The Land Report. In addition to the Four Seasons, he has stakes in other luxury hotels and a company that caters to private jet owners. His real estate portfolio includes one of the largest houses in the country and several equestrian facilities. He owns stakes in a clean energy investment fund and a nuclear energy start-up.
Forbes, or $146 billion, according to the research firm Wealth-X. Including the Gates Foundation’s endowment and the Gates personal fortune, Cascade most likely oversees assets that put it on par or beyond some of the world’s biggest hedge funds in size.
Mr. Larson operates Cascade with an obsessive level of secrecy, going to great lengths to cloak the firm’s transactions so that they can’t easily be traced back to the Gateses. In a 1999 interview with Fortune magazine, Mr. Larson said he chose the name “Cascade” because it was a generic-sounding name in the Pacific Northwest.
that questions about the future of the Gates Foundation immediately arose following news of the divorce. The foundation directs billions to 135 countries to help fight poverty and disease. As of 2019, it had given away nearly $55 billion. (In 2006, Mr. Buffett pledged $31 billion of his fortune to the Gates Foundation, greatly increasing its grant making.)
Since he stepped down from day-to-day operations at Microsoft in 2008, Mr. Gates has devoted much of his time to the foundation. He also runs Gates Ventures, a firm that invests in companies working on climate change and other issues. Over the decades, Mr. Gates shed the image of a ruthless tech executive battling the United States government on antitrust to be viewed as a global do-gooder. And he appears to be keenly aware of the stark contrast between the scale of his wealth and his role as a philanthropist. “I’ve been disproportionately rewarded for the work I’ve done — while many others who work just as hard struggle to get by,” he acknowledged in a year-end blog post from 2019.
told The New York Times last year. “There’s just none.”
“It was a constant tension point of the foundation. It was Warren who limited it, but Bill’s appetite is always, ‘We should do this, we should do this.’ Teams end up with this massive to-do list,” the former executive said.
Mr. Buffett acknowledged in an interview with The Times last year that he opposed institutional bloat. “That’s the one piece of advice I don’t shut up on, ever, because it’s the natural tendency of every organization,” he said.
Employees at the foundation often have to wear multiple hats to keep up with the demands. For instance, one staff member, Anita Zaidi, serves in the highly technical role of director of vaccine development and surveillance but also serves as president for gender equality.
Mr. Gates famously gave a TED Talk in 2015 warning about the global threat posed by contagious respiratory viruses. The foundation was packed with top talent working on developing new vaccines. It did not, however, have a single person out of roughly 1,600 staff members devoted full time to pandemics before the Covid-19 outbreak began.
For all the workarounds with contract employees and consultants, there was only so much bandwidth, and the decision was made not to have a dedicated team working on the matter. Instead the foundation threw its weight behind the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which helped develop vaccines to combat outbreaks.
When the pandemic struck, the foundation put its resources and expertise to work. It has dedicated $1.75 billion to combating the pandemic so far and played a key role in shaping the global response.
Even without the divorce, the foundation was in the midst of change. Mr. Buffett, the third trustee, turns 91 this summer. Mr. Gates’s father, Bill Gates Sr., who was co-chair and a guiding hand at the foundation, died this past September. Some observers have wondered if the couple’s three children could get involved soon. The elder two are already in college and medical school. Others have raised the possibility that this is the moment to loosen the family’s grip and install a board drawn from professionals outside the inner circle.
Goldman Sachs has joined JPMorgan Chase in telling its bankers that it’s almost time to come back to the office. David Solomon, Goldman’s C.E.O., sent a memo to employees advising them to “make plans to be in a position to return to the office” by June 14 in the U.S. and June 21 in Britain. JPMorgan plans to open its offices on May 17 on a voluntary basis and require that workers return to their desks in rotations starting in July.
Goldman and JPMorgan’s moves put pressure on other banks to put an end to remote work, several bankers told DealBook. While many thought they could work from home through the summer, some executives are keen to get employees back into the office sooner. (Retail branches have been open throughout the pandemic.) Other major banks aren’t expecting employees to return in meaningful numbers for several months:
Citigroup expects to have about 30 percent of its North America-based employees back in the office by the end of the summer.
Bank of America’s C.E.O., Brian Moynihan, said recently that a return to the office probably wouldn’t take place until after Labor Day.
Wells Fargo said it was “optimistic” that workers would be able to return to the office on Sept. 6.
These decisions may be complicated by where the banks’ offices are. It could be easier to coax workers back to JPMorgan’s headquarters in Midtown East, for example, than to Times Square, home to Barclays and Morgan Stanley, where businesses were especially hard-hit by the pandemic and a handful of highly publicized crimes have recently taken place. “People are so on edge and so uncertain about their own future that all these situations are exaggerated,” Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, told The Times.
Jamie Dimon appears eager for the end of remote working. “I’m about to cancel all my Zoom meetings,” the JPMorgan chief said at an event hosted by The Wall Street Journal. Working from home “does not work for younger people, it doesn’t work for those who want to hustle, it doesn’t work in terms of spontaneous idea generation,” he noted. Dimon said his bank had lost some business because rivals had visited a potential client in person and JPMorgan’s bankers hadn’t. He acknowledged that there was some pushback on the bank’s plans, but didn’t seem willing to give in. “Yes, people don’t like commuting, but so what,” he said.
In other Manhattan workplace moves, the New York Stock Exchange issued guidance that allows trading firms to increase their staff on the floor if the employees provide proof of vaccination. And the United Nations is taking a more cautious approach to reopening than its host city, saying that it was premature to plan for an in-person General Assembly in September.
Zoom fatigue. As a result, he has stopped scheduling back-to-back video chats. “I’m so tired of that,” he said.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Business groups oppose voting restrictions in Texas. A coalition including HP and Microsoft published a letter yesterday criticizing “any changes that would restrict eligible voters’ access to the ballot.” A second letter, signed by more than 100 Houston executives, criticized the Texas legislation as “voter suppression.” Both show how companies are more willing to wade into the debate over voting limits after Georgia enacted a bill with restrictions last month.
More details emerge about the Gates divorce. Cascade Investment, a holding company owned by Bill Gates, transferred over $1.8 billion worth of assets to Melinda Gates on Monday, the day that the two announced their plans to split. And although they will retain their roles as co-chairs and trustees of the Gates Foundation, questions remain about whether they will focus more on their individual philanthropies after they divorce.
The White House alters its Covid-19 vaccination strategy. The Biden administration will shift emphasis from mass inoculation sites to smaller ones like pharmacies to get more people in the U.S. vaccinated. Meanwhile, the campaign to vaccinate the world is floundering, with the virus spreading more rapidly than ever, driven by new waves in South America and India.
Global Task Force on Pandemic Response, organized by the Chamber of Commerce, Microsoft, IBM and Accenture, with support from the Business Roundtable, will organize assistance to the country. It will begin by sending 1,000 ventilators and 25,000 oxygen concentrators by the end of the month.
$3.5 billion in sales from the shot, likely equating to roughly $900 million in pretax profits. It plans to seek emergency approval to use the vaccine in children age 2 to 11 in September and full approval for use in adults this month.
Janet Yellen states the obvious, and markets shudder
Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary and former Fed chair, got in a bit of a tangle yesterday. She rattled the markets at one event — then used her appearance at a second conference to clarify her remarks.
Today in Business
“It may be that interest rates will have to rise somewhat to make sure that our economy doesn’t overheat,” she said at the first event, hosted by The Atlantic. Investors seized on those words — tech stocks tumbled most of all on the prospects of higher rates — and critics said she was improperly interfering in monetary policy. Fed officials have said that any spike in inflation linked to robust government spending and a postpandemic reopening is likely to be temporary; the central bank has pledged to keep interest rates low for a long time.
“Let me be clear, it’s not something I’m predicting or recommending,” Yellen said at the second event, hosted by The Wall Street Journal, a few hours later. “If anybody appreciates the independence of the Fed, I think that person is me.” Indeed, when she was the Fed chair, Yellen had to deal with persistent jawboning from Donald Trump, who spoke out more explicitly about Fed policy than many previous presidents. Stocks pared their losses.
first appearance in court over criminal fraud charges in more than a year. A federal prosecutor responded that Holmes “defrauded patients by saying tests were accurate and reliable when they weren’t — and she knew it.”
host of “Saturday Night Live” could get more people interested in trading the crypto token. (It’s as good a reason as any for those who try to rationalize its movements.)
The latest bout of Dogecoin mania has overshadowed what’s going on in Ethereum, the second-largest cryptocurrency, which set records this week and made its 27-year-old co-creator, Vitalik Buterin, a billionaire (in dollars). Ethereum is up more than 350 percent for the year to date, outpacing Bitcoin’s relatively pedestrian 90 percent gain — which, for context, outpaces every stock in the S&P 500.
the Facebook Oversight Board will announce whether it believes Facebook was justified in barring Donald Trump after he used the platform to incite a mob of supporters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. Here’s what you need to know about what Mark Zuckerberg has called Facebook’s “Supreme Court,” whose decision could influence how all social networks treat political speech.
What is the Facebook Oversight Board? Facebook assembled the board to vet its most sensitive decisions on moderating content. It consists of 20 members, including experts in human rights, constitutional law and journalism. The board’s cases, which are referred by Facebook or the public, are reviewed by a panel of five members, who consider whether the company’s decision is consistent with its rules and human rights laws. A majority of the full board must approve the final decision.
Does the board have any power? Only what Facebook gives it. The company has said it will abide by the board’s rulings, and the board’s charter emphasizes its independence. But Facebook has no legal obligation to follow those decisions, and it funds the organization through a $130 million trust.
What exactly will the board decide in this case? It could vote to reinstate Trump’s Facebook account or uphold the ban. Or it could provide a ruling with more nuance, such as finding that the ban was appropriate at the time it was initiated but is no longer necessary. In addition to a ruling in this case, Facebook has asked for broader policy recommendations.
“Basically the board is setting the tone here for what they’re going to do going forward — how much power they’re going to have, how much power they’re not going to have, whether they’re even going to be constrained by how the question was posed to them with Facebook,” Kate Klonick, an assistant professor of law at St. John’s University, told NPR.
THE SPEED READ
Tiger Global, the big tech investment firm, reportedly plans to raise $10 billion for its next fund. (FT)
Listing news roundup: Jessica Alba’s Honest Company raised $413 million in its I.P.O. at a $1.5 billion valuation; JAB’s Krispy Kreme filed confidentially to go public; and the Equinox gym chain is reportedly in talks to merge with a SPAC founded by Chamath Palihapitiya. (Bloomberg)
Politics and policy
How two Black C.E.O.s got corporate America to pay attention to voting rights. (WaPo)
U.S. officials are pushing Taiwanese chip makers to prioritize American automakers’ demands to ease supply shortages. (Reuters)
Inside the debate about who would actually pay President Biden’s corporate tax increase. (WSJ)
China is building electric car plants nearly as fast as Europe and the U.S. combined. (NYT)
The privacy-focused messaging app Signal said Facebook had blocked it from buying Instagram ads about the social network’s user-data gathering practices. (Insider)
Best of the rest
A majority of G.E. shareholders voted to reject a $230 million compensation package for the company’s C.E.O., Larry Culp. (FT)
Pandora, the world’s largest jewelry maker, is abandoning mined diamonds for lab-created ones. (NYT)
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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation started with ambitions that, by its lofty standards today, appear almost quaint: providing free internet access to public libraries in the United States. As its founders’ objectives grew in scope, so did the foundation’s reach, until it achieved its current position as the pre-eminent private institution in global public health.
With 1,600 staff members directing $5 billion in annual grants to 135 countries around the globe, the Gates Foundation set a new standard for private philanthropy in the 21st century.
All of that was thrown into question on Monday when the world learned that the foundation’s co-chairs, who had been married for 27 years, filed for divorce in Washington State. Grant recipients and staff members alike wondered what would happen and whether it might affect the mission.
The message from the headquarters in Seattle was clear: Bill and Melinda Gates may be splitting up, but the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation isn’t going anywhere. Their roles as co-chairs and trustees are not changing, and they will still set the agenda for the organization that bears their names. In an email on Monday, the Gates Foundation’s chief executive, Mark Suzman, reassured the staff that both Mr. and Ms. Gates remained committed to the organization.
observers noted that Ms. Gates had added her maiden name, French, to her Twitter profile.
The couple deployed their connections last year in response to the pandemic, calling leaders like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi to drum up support for their plans. The foundation has committed $1.75 billion so far to its Covid-19 response, and played a key role in shaping the global deal to bring vaccines to poor countries.
That prominence has also brought a fair share of scrutiny, throwing a spotlight on Mr. Gates’s robust defense of intellectual property rights — in this case, specific to vaccine patents — even in a time of extreme crisis, as well as the larger question of how unelected wealthy individuals can play such an outsize part on the global stage.
“In a civil society that is democratic, one couple’s personal choices shouldn’t lead university research centers, service providers and nonprofits to really question whether they’ll be able to continue,” said Maribel Morey, founding executive director of the Miami Institute for the Social Sciences.
reported earlier by Bloomberg.
Before the news of the divorce broke, the Gates Foundation had been in the midst of a period of upheaval. The pandemic shuttered its headquarters in Seattle even as staff members drawn from the top ranks of government health agencies and the pharmaceutical industry worked to muster a response to the deadly, rapidly spreading new coronavirus.
And as his public profile during the pandemic grew, so did spurious conspiracy theories such as that the global immunization effort was a cover for Mr. Gates to implant microchips to track people, blatantly false but still damaging as misinformation increased vaccine hesitancy.
Then Mr. Gates’s father, Bill Gates Sr., also a foundation co-chair, died in September. The elder Mr. Gates had initially taken the lead on his son’s charitable endeavors while the younger Mr. Gates was still at the helm of Microsoft. Bill Gates Sr. was viewed by many as a calm voice and a moral compass within the organization, even as he had stepped back in recent years.
The third trustee, the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett, turned 90 last year and has begun to discuss succession plans at his company, Berkshire Hathaway.
Dr. Morey said the recent changes could also present an opportunity to create a large, diverse board while increasing visibility into the foundation’s decision-making. “Part of the anxiety is coming from the lack of transparency in the day-to-day activities of the Gates Foundation,” she said.
Forbes estimates at $124 billion. The divorce won’t affect the money that has already been given to the foundation trust, but the couple may devote less money to it over time than they would have if they had stayed together.
“People are right to feel unmoored in terms of the direction of the foundation,” said Ms. Tompkins-Stange of the University of Michigan. “There’s a lot of ambiguity, as there might be in any divorce situation, but they seem committed to co-parenting the foundation.”
WASHINGTON — President Biden, faced with surging Covid-19 crises in India and South America, is under intensifying pressure from the international community and his party’s left flank to commit to increasing the vaccine supply by loosening patent and intellectual property protections on coronavirus vaccines.
Pharmaceutical and biotech companies, also feeling pressure, sought on Monday to head off such a move, which could cut into future profits and jeopardize their business model. Pfizer and Moderna, two major vaccine makers, each announced steps to increase the supply of vaccine around the world.
The issue is coming to a head as the World Trade Organization’s General Council, one of its highest decision-making bodies, meets Wednesday and Thursday. India and South Africa are pressing for the body to waive an international intellectual property agreement that protects pharmaceutical trade secrets. The United States, Britain and the European Union so far have blocked the plan.
Inside the White House, health advisers to the president admit they are divided. Some say that Mr. Biden has a moral imperative to act, and that it is bad politics for the president to side with pharmaceutical executives. Others say spilling closely guarded but highly complex trade secrets into the open would do nothing to expand the global supply of vaccines.
promised the liberal health activist Ady Barkan, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., that he would “absolutely positively” commit to sharing technology and access to a coronavirus vaccine if the United States developed one first. Activists plan to remind Mr. Biden of that promise during a rally scheduled for Wednesday on the National Mall.
proposal by India and South Africa would exempt World Trade Organization member countries from enforcing some patents, trade secrets or pharmaceutical monopolies under the body’s agreement on trade-related intellectual property rights, known as TRIPS. The idea would be to allow drug companies in other countries to make or import cheap generic copies.
Proponents say the waiver would free innovators in other countries to pursue their own coronavirus vaccines, without fear of patent infringement lawsuits. They also note that the proposed waiver goes beyond vaccines, and would encompass intellectual property for therapeutics and medical supplies as well.
“Many people are saying, ‘Won’t they need the secret recipe?’ That’s not necessarily the case,” said Tahir Amin, a founder of the Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating health inequities. “There are companies that feel they can go it alone, provided they don’t have to look over their shoulder and feel like they are going to take someone’s intellectual property.”
The pharmaceutical industry counters that rolling back intellectual property protections would not help ramp up vaccine production. It says that other issues are serving as barriers to getting shots into arms around the world, including access to raw materials and on-the-ground distribution challenges.
And just as important as having the rights to make a vaccine is having the technical know-how, which would have to be supplied by vaccine developers like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — a process known as technology transfer.
on LinkedIn that his company would immediately donate more than $70 million worth of medicines to India and is also trying to fast-track the vaccine approval process in India. The company also posted on Twitter promising “the largest humanitarian relief effort in our company’s history to help the people of India.”
Moderna, which developed its vaccine with funding from American taxpayers, has already said it would not “enforce our Covid-19 related patents against those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic.” But activists have been calling not just for the waiver, but for companies to share expertise in setting up and running vaccine factories — and for Mr. Biden to lean on them to do it.
issued an open letter calling on Mr. Biden to support the proposed waiver.
On Capitol Hill, 10 senators including Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, urged Mr. Biden to “prioritize people over pharmaceutical company profits” and reverse the Trump administration’s opposition to the waiver. More than 100 House Democrats have signed a similar letter.
a handful of governments, including those of Brazil and Thailand, bypassed patents held by the developers of antiviral drugs for H.I.V./AIDS in an effort to clear the way for lower-cost versions of the treatments.
H.I.V. drugs, however, involve a much simpler manufacturing process than the coronavirus vaccines, especially those using messenger RNA technology, which has never before been used in an approved product.
In a Twitter thread, Mr. Amin offered another example: In the 1980s, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline had developed recombinant hepatitis B vaccines and held a monopoly with more than 90 patents covering manufacturing processes. The World Health Organization recommended vaccination for children, but it was expensive — $23 a dose — and most Indian families could not afford it.
The founder of Shantha Biotechnics, an Indian manufacturer, was told that “even if you can afford to buy the technology your scientists cannot understand recombinant technology in the least,” Mr. Amin wrote.
But Shantha, he added, went on “to produce India’s first home-grown recombinant product at $1 a dose.” That enabled UNICEF to run a mass vaccination campaign.
WASHINGTON — Four months after Congress approved tens of billions of dollars in emergency rental aid, only a small portion has reached landlords and tenants, and in many places it is impossible even to file an application.
The program requires hundreds of state and local governments to devise and carry out their own plans, and some have been slow to begin. But the pace is hindered mostly by the sheer complexity of the task: starting a huge pop-up program that reaches millions of tenants, verifies their debts and wins over landlords whose interests are not always the same as their renters’.
The money at stake is vast. Congress approved $25 billion in December and added more than $20 billion in March. The sum the federal government now has for emergency rental aid, $46.5 billion, rivals the annual budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Experts say careful preparation may improve results; it takes time to find the neediest tenants and ensure payment accuracy. But with 1 in 7 renters reporting that they are behind on payments, the longer it takes to distribute the money, the more landlords suffer destabilizing losses, and tenants risk eviction.
scheduled to expire in June.
“I’m impressed with the amount of work that unsung public servants are doing to set up these programs, but it is problematic that more money isn’t getting out the door,” said Ingrid Gould Ellen, a professor at New York University who is studying the effort. “There are downstream effects if small landlords can’t keep up their buildings, and you want to reach families when they first hit a crisis so their problems don’t compound.”
Estimates of unpaid rents vary greatly, from $8 billion to $53 billion, with the sums that Congress has approved at the high end of the range.
The situation illustrates the patchwork nature of the American safety net. Food, cash, health care and other types of aid flow through separate programs. Each has its own mix of federal, state and local control, leading to great geographic variation.
programs with discretionary money from the CARES Act, passed in March 2020. These efforts disbursed $4.5 billion in what amounted to a practice run for the effort now underway with 10 times the money.
Lessons cited include the need to reach out to the poorest tenants to let them know aid is available. Technology often posed barriers: Renters had to apply online, and many lacked computers or internet access.
nearly 1 renter household in 5 reported being behind on payments.
The national effort, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, is run by the Treasury Department. It allocates money to states and also to cities and counties with populations of at least 200,000 that want to run their own programs. About 110 cities and 227 counties have chosen to do so.
The program offers up to 12 months of rent and utilities to low-income tenants economically harmed by the pandemic, with priority on households with less than half the area’s median income — typically about $34,000 a year. Federal law does not deny the aid to undocumented immigrants, though a few states and counties do.
Modern assistance seems to demand a mix of Jacob Riis and Bill Gates — outreach to the marginalized and help with software. Progress slowed for a month when the Biden administration canceled guidance issued under President Donald J. Trump and developed rules that require less documentation.
Other reasons for slow starts vary. Progressive state legislators in New York spent months debating the best way to protect the neediest tenants. Conservatives legislators in South Carolina were less focused on the issue. But the result was largely the same: Neither legislature passed its program until April, and neither state is yet accepting applications.
“I just don’t know why there hasn’t been more of a sense of urgency,” said Sue Berkowitz, the director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. “We’ve been hearing nonstop from people worried about eviction.”
committee in the state House of Representatives found that after 45 days, the program had paid just 250 households.
By contrast, a program jointly run by the city of Houston and Harris County had spent about a quarter of its money and assisted nearly 10,000 households.
Not everyone is troubled by the pace. “Getting the money out fast isn’t necessarily the goal here, especially when we focus on making sure the money reaches the most vulnerable people,” said Diane Yentel, the director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
2018 study found the area had the country’s highest eviction rate. Charleston County ran three rounds of rental relief with CARES Act money, and the state ran two.
The second state program, started with $25 million in February, drew so many applications that it closed in six days. But South Carolina is still processing those requests as it decides how to distribute the new federal funds.
Antonette Worke is among the applicants awaiting an answer. She moved to Charleston from Denver last year, drawn by cheaper rents, warmer weather and a job offer. But the job fell through, and her landlord filed for eviction.
Ms. Worke, who has kidney and liver disease, is temporarily protected by the federal eviction moratorium. But it does not cover tenants whose leases expire, as hers will at the end of next month. Her landlord said he would force her to move, even if the state paid the $5,000 in overdue rent.
Still, she said the help was important: A clean slate would make it easier to rent a new apartment and relieve her of an impossible debt. “I’m stressing over it to the point where I’ve made myself sicker,” she said.
Moving faster than the state, Charleston County started its $12 million program two weeks ago, and workers have taken computers to farmers’ markets, community centers and a mall parking lot. Christine DuRant, a deputy county administrator, said the aid was needed to prevent foreclosures that could reduce the housing stock. But critics would pounce if the program sent payments to people who do not qualify, she said: “We will be audited,” possibly three times.
Latoya Green is caught where the desire for speed and accounting collide. A clerk who lost hours in the pandemic, she owes $3,700 in rent and utilities and is protected by the eviction moratorium only until her lease expires next month.
She applied for help on the day the county program started but has not completed the application. She said she is unsettled by the emails requesting her lease, which she lacks, and proof of lost income.
Still, Ms. Green does not criticize Charleston County officials. “I think they’re trying their best,” she said. “A lot of people run scams.”
With time running short, she added: “I just hope and pray to God they’ll be able to assist me.”
Good morning. Have you gotten your vaccine yet? The Biden administration is offering tax breaks to companies that give their workers paid time off to get their shot. Here’s what else you should know in business and tech for the week ahead. — Charlotte Cowles
What’s Up? (April 18-24)
On Earth Day, President Biden kicked off a virtual climate summit with a guest list of who’s who in world power — including the pope, Bill Gates and President Xi Jinping of China. He put forth a high-flying goal for the United States to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, setting the bar for other leaders to follow suit. The plan is aggressive in scope but vague on specifics. Climate experts say it would require drastic changes in many areas of the country’s economy — too drastic, according to some critics. Think a rapid transition to electric cars, the end of coal-fueled power plants and a vast expansion of wind turbine energy.
The Last Word
Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, who is stepping down from his role as the company’s chief executive next quarter, addressed a few elephants in the room in his latest (and last?) shareholder’s letter. Such as: Even though Amazon workers in Alabama recently rejected a major campaign to unionize, he still thinks that “we need to do a better job for our employees.” He also said that workers get bathroom breaks whenever they want (i.e. they do not have to pee in bottles, contrary to what you may read on Twitter). Anyway, what else is new at Amazon? The company is developing a furniture assembly service to compete with the home goods e-commerce giant Wayfair, for one thing. Oh, and opening a hair salon in London where you can preview hairdos virtually before trying them out in real life.
home prices up by about 16 percent since the pandemic began. Analysts believe the market will stay strong through the end of the year at least.
What’s Next? (April 25-May 1)
iSpy … Less
Apple introduced its latest slate of products and software last week, including new computer colors — a mustard-yellow desktop monitor, anyone? As expected, it also revealed the AirTag, a $29 disc that attaches to keys, wallets and other items so they can be tracked down if lost. But slipped in with the jazzy stuff was new privacy software that will make it harder for advertisers to monitor people. The feature will require apps to get explicit permission from users before spying on — sorry, tracking — their digital behavior. If people decline, companies that rely on digital advertising (like, say, Facebook) are expected to gather less data about users’ activity.
Tax Dollars at Work
Mr. Biden rolled out a new plan that would raise taxes on the rich to reduce costs for child care and education. The proposals align with his campaign promise to increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy, but not on households earning less than $400,000. Still, Wall Street wasn’t happy about it, and the stock market fell after his announcement. Mr. Biden is expected to defend his ideas when he gives his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.
The tobacco industry has heavily marketed menthol cigarettes specifically to Black communities for decades, and they are used by 85 percent of Black smokers. (Because of their flavor, menthol cigarettes are considered easier to get hooked on and harder to quit.) As a result, Black Americans suffer disproportionate health consequences of addiction to menthol cigarettes. This Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will respond to a court order that compels it to take a position on whether to ban the product. But it’s complicated. Some critics of the ban say that it could cause police to more aggressively target Black Americans suspected of selling illegal cigarettes.
Months after the inauguration of President Biden, One America News Network, a right-wing cable news channel available in some 35 million households, has continued to broadcast segments questioning the validity of the 2020 presidential election.
“There’s still serious doubts about who’s actually president,” the OAN correspondent Pearson Sharp said in a March 28 report.
That segment was one in a spate of similar reports from a channel that has become a kind of Trump TV for the post-Trump age, an outlet whose reporting has aligned with the former president’s grievances at a time when he is barred from major social media platforms.
Some of OAN’s coverage has not had the full support of the staff. In interviews with 18 current and former OAN newsroom employees, 16 said the channel had broadcast reports that they considered misleading, inaccurate or untrue.
The channel did not broadcast live coverage of Mr. Biden’s swearing-in ceremony and Inaugural Address. Into April, news articles on the OAN website consistently referred to Donald J. Trump as “President Trump” and to President Biden as just “Joe Biden” or “Biden.” That practice is not followed by other news organizations, including the OAN competitor Newsmax, a conservative cable channel and news site.
OAN has also promoted the debunked theory that the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 were left-wing agitators. Toward the end of a March 4 news segment that described the attack as the work of “antifa” and “anti-Trump extremists” — and referred to the president as “Beijing Biden” — Mr. Sharp said, “History will show it was the Democrats, and not the Republicans, who called for this violence.” Investigations have found no evidence that people who identify with antifa, a loose collective of antifascist activists, were involved in the Capitol riot.
Charles Herring, the president of Herring Networks, the company that owns OAN, defended the reports casting doubt on the election. “Based on our investigations, voter irregularities clearly took place in the November 2020 election,” he said. “The real question is to what extent.”
Herring Networks was founded by Mr. Herring’s father, the tech entrepreneur Robert Herring, who at age 79 runs OAN with Charles and another son, Robert Jr. About 150 employees work for the channel at its headquarters in San Diego.
Pew Research reported that 7 percent of Americans, including 14 percent of Republicans, had gotten political news from OAN. By contrast, 43 percent of Americans and 62 percent of Republicans had gotten political news from Fox News, the survey found.
a Reuters/Ipsos poll last month, about half of Republicans said they believed that the Jan. 6 attack, which left five dead, was largely a nonviolent protest or was the handiwork of left-wing activists. Six in 10 of Republicans surveyed said they also believed Mr. Trump’s claim that the election was “stolen.”
OAN, which started in 2013, gained attention when it broadcast Mr. Trump’s campaign speeches in full before the 2016 election. In recent months, it has courted viewers who may have felt abandoned by Fox News, which on election night was the first news outlet to project Mr. Biden as the winner of Arizona, a key swing state. In a mid-November promotional ad, OAN accused Fox News of joining “the mainstream media in censoring factual reporting.”
OAN’s stories “appeal to people who want to believe that the election was not legitimate,” said Stephanie L. Edgerly, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. “These are two mutually reinforcing narratives of people who want to believe it and continue to get that fire stoked by OAN.”
report in May on the pandemic, Mr. Rouz said Covid-19 might have started as a “globalist conspiracy to establish sweeping population control,” one that had ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, the billionaires George Soros and Bill Gates, and “the deep state.”
Ms. Britton, the former OAN producer, recalled checking a website that Mr. Rouz had cited to back some of his reporting. “It literally took me to this chat room where it’s just conservatives commenting toward each other,” she said.
In an email to staff last month, Ms. Oakley, the news director, warned producers against ignoring or playing down Mr. Rouz’s work. “His stories should be considered ‘H stories’ and treated as such,” she wrote in the email, which The Times reviewed. “These stories are often slugged and copy-edited by ME as per Mr. H’s instructions.”
OAN’s online audience is significant, with nearly 1.5 million subscribers to its YouTube channel. One of its most popular videos, with about 1.5 million views since it went online Nov. 24, criticized Dominion Voting Systems, the election technology company whose equipment was used in more than two dozen states last year, including several won by Mr. Trump. Hosted by the OAN White House correspondent, Chanel Rion, the video shows a man who said he had infiltrated Dominion and heard company executives say they would “make sure” Mr. Trump lost.
Dominion has sued Fox News and two of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, accusing them of making or promoting defamatory claims. A lawyer for Dominion, who did not reply to requests for comment, has said the company is considering further legal action.
Mr. Golingan, the producer, said some OAN employees had hoped Dominion would sue the channel. “A lot of people said, ‘This is insane, and maybe if they sue us, we’ll stop putting stories like this out,’” he said.
Weeks after Dominion filed its first defamation suits, OAN broadcast a two-hour video in which the chief executive of MyPillow, Mike Lindell, made his case that widespread voter fraud had occurred. YouTube removed the video the day it was posted, saying it violated the platform’s election integrity policy. Last month, an OAN report described Dominion’s “voting machines” as “notorious.”
Two of the current and former employees interviewed for this article — Dan Ball, a talk-show host, and Neil W. McCabe, a former reporter — described OAN’s coverage as unbiased. Mr. McCabe, who now writes for The Tennessee Star, said the network gave a “voice to people that are just not covered.”