In the old days, when I used to give talks live and in person, it was not uncommon during the Q and A for someone in the audience to ask me who I thought was the greatest leader in the world. I would often turn the question around, and ask them, members of the audience, who they thought the greatest living leader. For years, the answer I would generally get, after a bit of back and forth, was Nelson Mandela. However, since Mandela’s death has been no obvious candidate. People have had a hard time coming up with the name of a single individual they widely agreed was the greatest living leader of all.
In the last few years, when I was pushed to answer the question myself, I did come up with a candidate – Bill Gates. Through some of my own research I had come fully to appreciate the leading role played by him and his wife, Melinda Gates, in the world of philanthropy. And, of course, this had to be paired with Bill Gates’s genius in founding (along with Paul Allen), and then running Microsoft, one of the most impressive, successful American companies ever.
Now there is this – the pandemic. Now there is this most fraught, most daunting of global challenges and, again, there is Gates. Gates at the forefront. For as it happens, he not only foresaw the virus crisis (back in 2015), but he is as well-equipped as any lay person anywhere in the world to address it. Given his deep experience in global health, especially epidemiology, he is fully equipped to address it substantively. And, given his deep pockets, which are constantly being partly emptied only to be promptly replenished, he is fully equipped to address it financially.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has an endowment of $40 billion. Recently it decided to devote all its enormous, various resources, including its extensive expertise, to taking on Covid-19. Similarly, it appears that Bill Gates himself has decided to step out from behind his usual scrim to go public, to put his own face on the fight against the disease. Last week he seemed to have made more public appearances than he usually does in a year. And he is writing constantly, prolifically, and invariably highly knowledgably, about where in the process of the pandemic we are now.
The coronavirus crisis seems to have got Gates’s competitive juices flowing. He is chomping at the bit to play his part in slaying this dragon – which means likely as not he will. Gates is great – a leader for the ages even now.