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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Spencer Silver, an Inventor of Post-it Notes, Is Dead at 80

Spencer Ferguson Silver III was born on Feb. 6, 1941, in San Antonio. His father, Spencer Jr., was an accountant. His mother, Bernice (Wendt) Silver, was a secretary.

Spencer was a teenager in 1957 when the Soviet Union sent the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into Earth’s orbit.

“His science teacher told the class, ‘All you guys are going to be engineers,’” his wife said in a phone interview.

Dr. Silver did not choose engineering or astrophysics. Instead, he graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Colorado, Boulder, four years later. While there, he met Linda Martin, an undergraduate who was working part time in the chemistry department. They married in 1965.

He soon joined 3M as a senior chemist working on pressure-sensitive adhesives. During his 30 years at the company, he rose to the rank of corporate scientist. And while he worked on other projects involving branch block copolymers and immuno-diagnostics, none were part of popular successes like Post-it Notes.

The mating of Dr. Silver’s adhesive and Mr. Fry’s handmade adhesive notes was a hit with 3M secretaries. But 3M executives weren’t so sure.

A test release in 1977 of Press ‘n Peel, as the product was called, in four cities — Denver; Tulsa, Okla.; Tampa, Fla.; and Richmond, Va. — flopped with consumers, who were uncertain about the idea of repositionable paper squares. But the next year, 3M had greater success when it flooded offices in Boise, Idaho, with free samples; 90 percent of the recipients said they would buy them.

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