“Given that founders receive a substantial tax benefit for their donations, the assets the board oversees should be regarded as belonging to the public, with the board being held accountable to a fiduciary standard of care,” wrote Alex Friedman, the former chief financial officer, and Julie Sunderland, the former director of the foundation’s Strategic Investment Fund.

The Gates Foundation is trying to fight Covid-19, eradicate polio and reshape the struggle for gender equality, even as its two co-chairs extricate themselves from a 27-year marriage. The foundation has more than 1,700 employees and makes grants in countries around the world. Since 2000, the foundation has made grants totaling more than $55 billion, much of it from Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates, but tens of billions also came from Mr. Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.

Yet, in significant ways, the future of such an influential institution, one that touches the lives of millions of people through its grant recipients, is being decided in a separation agreement between two billionaires.

Mr. Buffett’s announcement last month that he was stepping down as the third trustee of the foundation made clear that the divorce had set significant changes in motion. Mr. Suzman promised at the time that governance changes would be announced this month, with many observers anticipating that a new slate of independent trustees would be revealed.

Details on what that might look like remained few on Wednesday, with neither names of candidates for the board of trustees nor even the ultimate number of new trustees released. Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates will approve changes to the foundation’s governance structures by the end of the year and the new trustees will be announced in January, according to the statement.

At the center of the impending changes stands Mr. Suzman, a 14-year veteran of the Gates Foundation, who was named chief executive just as the spread of Covid-19 in the United States was becoming apparent. Born in South Africa, the Harvard- and Oxford-educated Mr. Suzman served as a correspondent for The Financial Times in London, South Africa and Washington before going to work at the United Nations. He joined the foundation in 2007 to work on global development policy before claiming the top post last year.

Mr. Suzman said in an interview that he had heard that Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates would be divorcing only about 24 hours before the news was announced. He said they had started talking about possible governance changes “almost right away” after that.

He said he was in regular contact with both. “I’m having three-way conversations with them,” Mr. Suzman said. “We’re having regular three-way email exchanges and other discussions.”

He noted that the hands-on leadership of Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates meant the changes will take some time to enact.

“The degree and depth of engagement of our co-chairs and trustees goes significantly beyond what a traditional board does and how it does it,” he said in the interview. “So we’ll need some time to think through how we balance that with the people we bring on board.”

Mr. Suzman will work with Connie Collingsworth, the foundation’s chief operating officer and chief legal officer, to handle the process. The final decisions on both the new trustees and the changes to the foundation’s governance documents will be made by Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates. It is a reminder that, at least for now, power remains concentrated in the former couple.

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The Gateses’ Public Split Spotlights a Secretive Fortune

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.”

Matthew Goldstein contributed reporting.

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The Week in Business: Where Are the Jobs?

Good morning and happy Mother’s Day. (Hi, mom!) Here’s the news you need to know for the week ahead in business and tech. — Charlotte Cowles

Credit…Giacomo Bagnara

Economists expected the April jobs report to be full of great news — lower unemployment, robust hiring, confetti! And by most measures, they were disappointed. The pace of hiring actually slowed, and the unemployment rate rose slightly, to 6.1 percent, for the first time in a year. What’s going on? It’s complicated. Some lawmakers say that the government’s supplemental unemployment benefits are discouraging people from re-entering the work force, particularly in lower-wage positions. Others point to the millions of Americans who aren’t able to work because they’re managing child care, as many schools still aren’t yet back to normal operations. Either way, the country’s economic recovery isn’t going to be simple.

It’s been five months since Facebook barred former President Donald J. Trump indefinitely for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. As for when to allow him back, the platform kicked the question over to its independent oversight board, a group of about 20 academics, human rights leaders and political figures from around the globe. Last Wednesday, the group upheld Facebook’s ban, but ruled that the company had to establish a clearer policy for it. Facebook now has six months to make a long-term decision about Mr. Trump’s account and create community standards that justify it.

are divorcing. Their eponymous foundation has an endowment of about $50 billion and spent over $1 billion to combat the coronavirus pandemic in the past year alone. The organization released a statement saying that the couple intends to remain co-chairs and trustees, and no changes are expected. Still, the divorce will affect their shared fortune, much of which has been pledged but not yet donated to the foundation. Mr. Gates, 65, co-founded Microsoft and is one of the richest people in the world.

Credit…Giacomo Bagnara

President Joseph R. Biden will hold a meeting with the four top House and Senate leaders, from both sides of the aisle, for the first time since taking office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, and their Republican counterparts, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, are expected to discuss Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda and his plans to fund it by taxing the rich. Republican lawmakers have fought the proposals from day one. Sounds like a fun conversation.

Warren Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, says inflation is rising. The price of building materials and other consumer goods is going up as demand grows and production costs increase. But the Federal Reserve has repeatedly encouraged investors not to fret. Is the economy going to overheat, with interest rates so low? Probably a bit. But slightly higher prices for a temporary period is in step with the Fed’s general aim for an inflation rate of 2 percent on average over time, to make up for exceptionally weak gains over the past several years.

The Biden administration has backed a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines, which would allow third-party drugmakers around the world to manufacture and distribute them to nations that need them. But the U.S. pharmaceutical industry is not happy about this, particularly those who hold the patents on these vaccines. (Pfizer alone generated $3.5 billion in revenue from its Covid-19 vaccine in the first three months of this year.) Representatives of the companies argue that suspending those patents will discourage future innovation and potentially decrease the safety standards of vaccine manufacturing and efficacy. Support from the White House does not guarantee that a waiver will happen, but it adds momentum.

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The Separate Worlds of Bill and Melinda Gates

“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.

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Berkshire Hathaway Shows a Rebound From the Pandemic

Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate run by Warren E. Buffett, reported $11.7 billion in net earnings in the first quarter on Saturday, swinging to a profit from a $49.7 billion loss a year ago as the paper value of its investment gains soared.

Using Berkshire’s preferred financial metric, operating earnings, the company showed a nearly 19 percent year-on-year gain as its wide array of subsidiaries — from energy production to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad to consumer brands — improved their performances.

Among the businesses that saw the biggest improvements was the railroad, which benefited from higher freight volumes as the American economy rebounded from the pandemic. Berkshire’s building products and consumer subsidiaries also posted higher sales, as housing construction and retail buying picked up.

Other parts of Mr. Buffett’s empire continued to show strain, however, particularly industrial manufacturers like Precision Castparts, whose aerospace parts were in lower demand because of the Covid-related drop in travel.

reject proposals to compel Berkshire to disclose more about its subsidiaries’ efforts to address climate change and workplace diversity, raising questions about whether his approach is out of step.

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Warren Buffett Opposes Climate and Diversity Proposals for Berkshire

The other proposal, by the shareholder advocacy group As You Sow on behalf of Handlery Hotels, calls on Berkshire to detail its diversity and inclusion efforts, arguing that more diverse workforces perform better.

Berkshire does not dispute the importance of either issue. In its proxy statement to shareholders, which recommends voting against the proposals, the company says that it agrees about the importance of both climate change and a diverse and inclusive work force.

The argument against those proposals is tied to what the company calls its “unusually decentralized” business model. Though its various subsidiaries employ about 360,000 people around the world, Berkshire itself employs only about two dozen at its base in Omaha, Neb., with relatively lean resources to review the efforts of all its portfolio companies. Asking for standardized diversity data for all of its subsidiaries, for instance, would be “unreasonable,” it said.

“I think for a company this size, it’s an extraordinary ask,” Mr. Cunningham said.

Moreover, Mr. Buffett has long played up the independence of his subsidiaries’ chief executives, giving them wide berths so long as their companies perform well. “I don’t believe in imposing my political opinions on the activities of our businesses,” he said at Berkshire’s 2018 annual meeting.

For Berkshire, then, responsibility for action on climate and diversity lies largely with its operating companies. Berkshire Hathaway Energy “determined independently” to back the Paris climate accord and has invested heavily in renewable energy, the proxy statement noted.

The shareholder proposals’ fates aren’t in doubt. Mr. Buffett controls about a third of Berkshire’s voting power, and holds enormous sway over the company’s army of devoted retail investors. Previous efforts to force changes to Berkshire’s governance do not have a great track record: A 2014 proposal to encourage the company to pay a dividend, which was opposed by management, garnered support from less than 3 percent of shareholders.

But even if the proposals fail on Saturday, Berkshire may still need to change. The Securities and Exchange Commission is weighing moves to require companies to provide more disclosure on E.S.G. issues, particularly climate, calling them potentially material financial information.

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Hundreds of Companies Unite to Oppose Voting Limits, but Others Abstain

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the bank said, “We publicly made our own strong statement last month about the critical importance of every citizen being able to exercise their fundament right to vote.”

That statement for release on Wednesday came together over the past week and a half, after the Black executives who spoke out received an outpouring of support.

About 10 days ago, Mr. Chenault and Mr. Frazier conferred with three other Black executives — William M. Lewis Jr., the chairman of investment banking at Lazard; Clarence Otis Jr., a former chief executive of Darden Restaurants; and Charles Phillips, a former chief executive of Infor — about what next steps they could take. Within days, they had a draft of the statement and were sharing it with other executives.

Last Wednesday, Mr. Frazier and Mr. Chenault spoke with members of the Business Roundtable, an influential lobbying group that includes the chief executives of many of the company’s biggest companies. Sherrilyn A. Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., also spoke to the group.

Then on Thursday, someone from Mr. McConnell’s staff, at the group’s invitation, briefed its members on the details of the Georgia law, several people familiar with the situation said.

The next day, members of the Business Roundtable had a regularly scheduled meeting at which the executives discussed the voting issue. On that call, Dan Schulman, the chief executive of PayPal, encouraged other executives to sign the statement.

And on Saturday, Mr. Chenault and Mr. Frazier spoke on a Zoom meeting with more than 100 executives that was organized by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale professor who regularly gathers business leaders to discuss politics. At that meeting, Mr. Chenault read the statement and invited executives on the call to add their names to the list of signatories.

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