Bill Gates Tells Grads Not to Focus on Wealth

Brandon Dimmel's picture

Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Bill Gates recently told Stanford University's graduating class to focus on more than amassing personal fortunes. It's an ironic statement for a man who, according to Forbes magazine, is worth an estimated $78.4 billion.

Gates made his appeal on Sunday, June 15, in a commencement address before a crowd of 5,000 students departing one of America's most prestigious universities. Stanford University is one of the world's leading research universities known for both its entrepreneurial character and its relationship to Silicon Valley. Gates spoke alongside his wife, Melinda, and the couple both praised Stanford for making students appreciate two unique traits, including "flexibility of mind" and "openness to change".

Bill Gates Tells Grads to Consider More Than Profits

According to Bill Gates, this "openness to change" must include concentrating on solving some of the world's most pressing problems -- like poverty and disease -- rather than focusing exclusively on generating personal wealth. To lend weight to his statement, Gates related a story from his early years, when he visited some of the poorest, most desperate parts of South Africa.

"My visit to Soweto became an early lesson in how naive I was," noted Gates, who traveled to the African country in the early 1990s to promote a charity that brought computers to poor communities. (Source:

"It became clear to me, very quickly, that this was not the United States," Gates added. "The people there lived in corrugated tin shacks with no electricity, no water, no toilets. Most people didn't wear shoes. They walked barefoot along the streets, except there were no streets, just ruts in the mud."

When asked how he would respond to people who would say that it's becoming increasingly difficult to initiate visible social and economic change in desperate and racially divided countries like South Africa, Gates insisted that "the pessimists are wrong," but admitted that "they are not crazy."

"If innovation is purely market driven, and we don't focus on the big inequities, then we could have amazing advances in inventions that leave the world even more divided," Gates said.

Is Gates' Anti-Profit Appeal Too Much?

Bill and Melinda Gates now devote much of their time and enormous fortune to helping eliminate crippling poverty and deadly diseases (like HIV, polio, and malaria). But some people have suggested it's a bit overwhelming to hear the world's wealthiest man tell university graduates to focus on something other than generating enormous personal revenue.

Bill Gates is hardly the first tech mogul to speak before Stanford graduates. Back in 2005, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs shared the more direct (though also more ambiguous) advice: "stay hungry, stay foolish." (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think it's important to remind college and university graduates to focus on something other than making lots of money? Is Bill Gates is the right person to deliver this type of message? Which piece of advice do you believe is more valuable: that delivered by Bill Gates or by Steve Jobs? What advice would you give to the Stanford graduates?

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Sparkydog's picture

Dumbest statement made to a commencement speech:
"It became clear to me, very quickly, that this was not the United States,"
After visiting Africa, Bill became an anti-capitalistic, socialist.
HE got rich from capitalism, but doesn't want anyone else to. He is such a hypocritical ninny.

CEDARTOWN_2530's picture

I feel it would be wonderful if Mr. Gates contributed as much to our home land as he did to Africa (I read that most of the money was divided among local war lords and the children received very little benefit from it.)