50 Quotes from the Wealthiest Man in America

By Christian Hudspeth
July 14, 2011

Bill Gates once told his professors at Harvard that he would be a millionaire by the age of 30. As it turned out, he became a billionaire at 31.

Despite an early interest in computer programming, Gates initially studied law when he enrolled at Harvard in 1973. But his interests would continue to be drawn to the computer screen rather than his legal studies. He would leave Harvard two years later to work with longtime friend Paul Allen on their first operating system under the "Micro-Soft" name.

Not long after, the pair dropped the hyphen from the name and Microsoft (NYSE: MSFT) was born, propelling Gates to multi-billionaire status.

There's a lot you can learn from his experience, so to get started, here are 50 Bill Gates quotes on life, investing and the future of technology and business.

1.  "Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one."

2.  "It's fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure."

3.  "Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose."

4.  "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction."

5.  "Television is not real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs."

6.  "I really had a lot of dreams when I was a kid and I think a great deal of that grew out of the fact that I had a chance to read a lot."

7.  "I'm a big believer that as much as possible, and there's obviously political limitations, freedom of migration is a good thing."

8.  "If you can't make it good, at least make it look good."

9.  "Of my mental cycles, I devote maybe 10% to business thinking. Business isn't that complicated. I wouldn't want that on my business card."

10. "Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off, and very few employers are interested in helping you. Find yourself."

On Wealth and Investing:

11. "I have $100 billion… You realize I could spend $3 million a day, every day, for the next 100 years? And that's if I don't make another dime…"

12. "Patience is a key element of success."

13. "Is the rich world aware of how four billion of the six billion live? If we were aware, we would want to help out, we'd want to get involved."

14.  "Capitalism is this wonderful thing that motivates people, it causes wonderful inventions to be done. But in this area of disease of the world at large, it's really let us down."

15. "Creative capitalism takes this interest in the fortunes of others and ties it to our interest in our own fortunes in ways that help advance both. This hybrid engine of self-interest and concern for others can serve a much wider circle of people than can be reached by self-interest or caring alone".

16.  "I have drifted away from thinking about these philanthropic things. And it was only as the wealth got large enough and Melinda and I had talked about the view that wealth wasn't something that would be good to just pass to the children."

17.  "I actually thought that it would be a little confusing during the same period of your life to be in one meeting when you're trying to make money, and then go to another meeting where you're giving it away."

18.  (On being the world's richest man) "I wish I wasn't… There's nothing good that comes out of that. You get more visibility as a result of it."

19.  "… No one is less happy than I am with the performance of Microsoft stock! I've lost tens of billions of dollars this year -- if you check, you'll see that's more than most people make in a lifetime!"

On Leadership:

20.  "Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important."

21.  "As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others."

22.  "Until we're educating every kid in a fantastic way, until ever inner city is cleaned up, there is no shortage of things to do."

23.  "If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss. He doesn't have tenure."

24.  "If I'd had some set idea of a finish line, don't you think I would have crossed it years ago?"

25.  "We've got to put a lot of money into changing behavior."

26.  "I do think this next century, hopefully, will be about a more global view. Where you don't just think, 'Yes, my country is doing well,' but you think about the world at large."

27.  "There is a certain responsibility that accrued to me when I got to this unexpected position."

28.  "You see, antiquated ideas of kindness and generosity are simply bugs that must be programmed out of our world. And these cold, unfeeling machines show us the way."

On Business Development:

29.  "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning."

30.  "If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 MPG."

31.  "Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana."

32.  "If you show people problems and you show people the solutions, they will be moved to act."

33.  "I'm sorry that we have to have a Washington presence. We thrived during our first 16 years without any of this. I never made a political visit to Washington, and we had no people here. It wasn't on our radar screen. We were just making great software."

#-ad_banner_2-# 34.  "The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency."

35.  "This is a fantastic time to be entering the business world, because business is going to change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 50."

36.  "Whether it's Google or Apple or free software, we've got some fantastic competitors and it keeps us on our toes."

37.  "At Microsoft there are lots of brilliant ideas, but the image is that they all come from the top -- I'm  afraid that's not quite right."

38.  "The Internet will help achieve 'friction-free capitalism' by putting buyer and seller in direct contact and providing more information to both about each other."

39.  "We are always saying to ourselves, 'We have to innovate. We've got to come up with that breakthrough.' In fact, the way software works, so long as you are using your existing software, you don't pay us anything at all. So we're only paid for breakthroughs."

On Computers and Technology:

40.  "The great thing about a computer notebook is that no matter how much you stuff into it, it doesn't get bigger or heavier."

41.  "To create a new standard it takes something that's not just a little bit different. It takes something that's really new and really captures people's imaginations. And the Macintosh, of all the machines I've ever seen, is the only one that meets that standard."

42.  "We're not even close to finishing the basic dream of what the PC can be."

43.  "Windows 2000 already contains features such as the human discipline component, where the PC can send an electric shock through the keyboard if the human does something that does not please Windows."

44.  "I think it's fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tool we've ever created. They're tools of communication, they're tools of creativity and they can be shaped by their user."

45.  "When the PC was launched, people knew it was important."

46.  "DOS is ugly and interferes with user experience."

47.  "Software suppliers are trying to make their software packages more user-friendly… Their best approach, so far, has been to take all the old brochures and stamp the words user-friendly on the cover."

48.  "The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don't really even notice it, so it's part of everyday life."

49.  "I'm a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they're interested in."

50.  "The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow."