Data Sheet—Why Bill and Melinda Gates Topped Fortune’s Greatest Leaders List

April 18, 2019, 12:48 PM UTC

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We interrupt our usual tech-industry programming today to bring you something mostly different, Fortune’s annual World’s Greatest Leaders list.

At the top is a former tech guy, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and his wife, Melinda. The Gateses have given away some $45 billion over the years to fight diseases like malaria, cholera, and tuberculosis. Fortune top editor Clifton Leaf, who wrote the cover story about their efforts, asked the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for an accounting of every grant it has made. “I got back a spreadsheet with 41,487 items,” Leaf reports. The spreadsheet undoubtedly was in Excel.

Photograph by Spencer Lowell
Photograph by Spencer Lowell

I encourage you to have a look at the whole list of leaders as well as Geoff Colvin’s masterful introduction, which focuses on the connection between leadership and “hardiness.” Despite Bill Gates being at the top, you won’t find a lot of tech leaders in this year’s ranking. Tim Cook, for leading his company into a new business model, and Masayoshi Son, for leading a reinvention of investing, are two.

I’ve long felt it is ironic that Gates eventually will be remembered as a canny and articulate philanthropist rather than as a ruthless and cunning technologist. The rest of the tech industry is pretty good at leading the way to making products that generate lots of profits but not much else. The greatness isn’t as apparent these days.


A quick note on Microsoft: Its newest Xbox won’t have a slot for discs. Young people undoubtedly will say “Duh!” to that, but it’s a big deal. Microsoft assumes most games will be downloaded or streamed. It’s also a reminder to add the software company to the list of would-be streamers—Disney, Apple, NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia, Google—who intend to join the fray soon.


Shares of IBM dipped 4% Wednesday after the technology behemoth reported declining revenue in its most recent quarter. What continues to amaze is how important IBM’s mainframe business remains. “Despite the chatter that ‘this time might be different,’” writes Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi, “the mainframe (and associated offerings) is proving once again to be a highly cyclical and important driver of IBM’s overall financials.” Mainframe revenue was down 11% year over year.


Good timing. Did I say yesterday that Pinterest and Zoom would debut on the stock market on Friday? I did–but today is the IPO day. Both deals were priced for their initial investors on Wednesday evening. Pinterest stock was set at $19, above the range the company had predicted, and Zoom went out at $36, also slightly above its pre-deal range. Our own Lucinda Shen has advice on what to follow once the stocks start trading later today. And as Uber nears its own IPO, the startup is looking to share the load of developing self-driving cars. Outside investors including SoftBank and Toyota could pump $1 billion into the effort.

Killing me softly. If voice-controlled apps are the future, Facebook doesn't want to be left out. The company is developing its own digital assistant to compete with the likes of Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa, CNBC reports. Microsoft already has a digital assistant, Cortana, named after a popular Xbox video game character. On Wednesday, in addition to the Xbox news Adam mentioned, Microsoft also unveiled the second generation of its Surface Hub computer. The PC with a 50-inch touch screen will sell for $9,000 starting in June.

Believing I had supernatural powers, I ran into a brick wall. After making little headway with Chinese shoppers, Amazon is closing its online store for the country. The company will continue other efforts there, including Amazon Web Services and its Kindle e-book store. In another deal related to China that went sour, Wisconsin's new governor, Tony Evers, says Foxconn isn't creating all the jobs promised and its subsidy and tax cuts package with his state needs to be revised.

Keep it secret, keep it safe. While most of Washington, D.C., focuses on some little report that's due out today, another battle is brewing over the detailed annual privacy reports that Facebook has to submit to the Federal Trade Commission. The Electronic Privacy Information Center is suing to make the reports public, but Facebook is seeking to keep them...private. Across town at the Federal Communications Commission, chair Ajit Pai signaled his agency will reject an application from China Mobile to become a "common carrier" for international voice calls between the United States and other countries. The request "raises substantial and serious national security and law enforcement risks," Pai said.

You're folding it wrong. A few of the reviewers of the Samsung Galaxy Fold managed to break the folding display within days of getting the device. Samsung says it is looking into the matter, but the removal of a protective sheath of plastic may be to blame.


Tencent’s WeChat is one of the so-called super apps of Asia. Growing beyond its messaging roots, the app lets users do everything from play online group games to make mobile payments at retail locations. The United States doesn’t exactly have any super apps-at least not yet. Dennis Schaal investigates for Skift how Google is expanding its super popular Maps app into super app territory. It’s a popular take, but some disagree:

Melanie Lee of Grab explained that superapps initially took off in China and Southeast Asia because most people didn’t have smartphones but wielded mobile phones with lower memory that couldn’t handle multiple apps deftly. A single app, such as WeChat in China or Grab in Southeast Asia, made a lot more sense, she added...”One of the things about Chinese people is that they love cluttered websites,” Lee said. “If you go to any website in China, a news website, it’s full of text. But to a Western audience that is ugly. Right? But that’s still the same way. That hasn’t changed. So I think user behavior is something that’s so difficult and so ingrained to kind of shift. It’s the same way if you look at Australia, where Fintech hasn’t caught on because credit cards are so ubiquitous. So I think the concept of having multiple apps installed in your phone and using them for different services like DoorDash for food, Uber Eats for delivery, I think that’s so ingrained. I don’t really see that changing.”


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In a Venn diagram covering the intersection of our current pop cultural obsessions, you might find podcasts and HBO's final season of Game of Thrones in the center. So New York Magazine's Vulture blog has taken the helpful step of finding the 10 best podcasts about GoT (actually, they've updated a post from 2017, but who's counting?). I haven't listened to many yet but some of the title puns are awesome: A Storm of Spoilers and Arya Talking to Me? Too funny.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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