Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates are considering shaking up their $50 billion foundations by bringing in outside directors, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal reported that French Gates had pushed for governance changes at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in recent weeks to protect it after their planned divorce.
The foundation currently has three trustees: Gates, French Gates, and the billionaire investor Warren Buffett. The couple are discussing both adding a board and bringing in outside directors, The Journal reported, citing sources familiar with the couple.
The foundation has more than 1,600 staff members and is one of the world’s biggest philanthropic foundations, with an endowment of $49.8 billion as of 2019.
The foundation, which the couple set up in 2000, hasn’t made any changes to its governance yet, CEO Mark Suzman told the publication.
And the couple, who announced their divorce May 3 after 27 years of marriage, still plan on working together at the foundation, Suzman added.
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Gates and French Gates are also cochairs of the foundation and provide strategic direction and long-term planning, while Suzman handles its day-to-day running as CEO.
Leaders at the foundation want to protect its reputation following the divorce announcement, the people told The Journal. They added that some grant recipients had contacted the foundation with questions about Gates’ ties to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Gates’ reputation has taken a hit from a flurry of scandals that have emerged since the divorce announcement — including an office affair, allegations of an “uncomfortable” workplace behavior, and ties to Epstein. A growing number of reports suggest a rocky relationship between the philanthropist couple in recent years, contrasting with their public statements.
Suzman: The couple remain committed to the foundation
In matching statements announcing their divorce, the couple had said that they would continue their work together after the divorce, and a representative for the foundation told the New York Post that “no changes to their roles or the organization are planned.”
But Suzman told The Journal that he, Gates, French Gates, and Buffett were discussing options to “strengthen the long-term sustainability and stability of the foundation given the cochairs’ divorce.” He said no decisions had been made.
“Bill and Melinda have reaffirmed their commitment to the foundation and continue to work together on behalf of our mission,” he said. “These discussions are part of their prudent planning for the future.”
The foundation has funded work in areas including global health, emergency relief, education, and poverty, giving about $5 billion in grants annually, and has pumped about $1.75 billion into COVID-19 relief efforts.
Gates stepped down as the CEO of Microsoft in 2008 to focus on the foundation, and he left the boards of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway in March 2020, stating the same reason.
Credit: Business Insider