Bill Gates is getting a new job. That has thousands (or at least two that I know of) ex-Microsofties suddenly feeling competitive again. When John Wood, the Founder of Room to Read was interviewed by Deborah Solomon for The New York Times I noted the following exchange:
[Deborah Solomon]: "Do you think you are following in Bill Gates's philanthropic footsteps?"
[John Wood]: "In a way, I've got a nine-year head start on him at leaving Microsoft to devote myself to this full time. Gates is not going full time until 2008."
This was remarkably similar to what Denise Shephard, another Microsoftie and one of the founders of SVP Bay Area, had said to me when Gates first made his announcement. As she put it, "I've got to get busy. I've had an 8 year head start on him but now I only have 2 more years before he gets here." Shephard also wondered aloud about several of her former colleagues who she was sure would say the very same thing.
Back in the 90?s when a reporter asked Gates "What was the most important thing you did at Microsoft this year?" he would reply, "I hired a lot of really smart people."
A lot of those really smart people have turned their attention to philanthropy, as have similar "tribes" from places like Google, eBay, AOL, and elsewhere. The philanthropic dollars matter - but so do the people and their networks that earned those dollars and are now giving them away. The big impact of this generational shift to philanthropy - short term and long - may not be just the raw dollars but the networks and the people.