It’s taken Melinda Gates years to get comfortable in the public spotlight.
But as she steps up to champion her latest philanthropic cause, better lives for women worldwide, she’s publicly talking about all sorts of things, including her relationship with her famous husband, Microsoft cofounder and the world’s richest man, Bill Gates.
Earlier this year, she told the story to Fortune’s Nina Easton of how Bill asked her out one Saturday morning in the company parking lot. And how she basically turned him down.
His invitation was less than enthralling. He asked to schedule dinner with her in two weeks and she told him ‘that’s not spontaneous enough for me.’ She gave him her number , told him to ask again closer to the day he was free. Instead he called her that night and things took off from there, even though “my mum didn’t think it was a good idea,” Gates said. He was the CEO of her company and one of the world’s most eligible bachelors. She was a product manager at Microsoft.
In a newly published interview with Forbes’ Caroline Howard, Gates explained why she eventually said yes to that first date. He reminded her of the guys she befriended in college when earning her computer science degree.
“I worked around a lot of really intelligent guys in college because there were very few women. … When I look back, Bill was the same kind of guy I was hanging out with in college. I had a lot of respect for them, and they had respect for me. I was definitely attracted to his brilliant mind, but beyond that, his curiosity. And he has a huge sense of fun. I love that wry side of him.”
It wasn’t exactly a whirlwind romance. They dated seven years before getting married.
And when they both began running the foundation together, it took a while for her to feel like their working relationship was an equal partnership, explaining:
“We certainly weren’t working as equals when we started together. I was down several levels at Microsoft, and he was the CEO. We’ve had to change to really be coequals. It’s not something that immediately happens overnight, but we’re both committed to it. We needed to talk behind the scenes when it wasn’t working. But I think that’s come now.”
Bill Gates agrees. Like the Ben Rumson character in the classic move “Paint Your Wagon,” he prefers to operate with a partner. He told Forbes’ Howard:
“Everything I’ve ever done, I’ve always had a partner. In the early days of Microsoft it was Paul Allen who helped come up with the ideas and build the early things. Then it became Steve Ballmer, who I met at college and came in and helped run the company and made it super successful. Now it’s Melinda at the foundation.”
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