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Gates' next full-time job: Trying to save the world

By Benjamin J. Romano

The man who once aimed to put a computer on every desk and in every home will turn his full attention to something even more ambitious: the health and welfare of the world.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard to build the world’s largest software company and become the world’s richest person, said Thursday he is stepping aside over the next two years to work full time at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The world's largest charity, the Seattle foundation has a $29.1 billion endowment focused on fighting disease and improving education around the world.

The move comes at a critical time for Microsoft, which has brought tens of thousands of jobs to the Puget Sound area and created enormous wealth. But Gates, who has generated controversy over business practices, said in a Redmond news conference with his friend and business partner, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, that the company is as strong as ever.

"Of course, with the success of Microsoft, I've also been given the gift of great wealth," he said. "I believe that with great wealth comes great responsibility — a responsibility to give back to society and to see that those resources are put to work in the best possible way to help those most in need."

Gates said Microsoft had achieved much more than he and co-founder Paul Allen imagined.

"We talked about a computer on every desk and in every home. It's amazing to see so much of that dream become a reality and touch so many lives," Gates said. "I never imagined what an incredible and important company would spring from those original ideas."

Joined by Ballmer later in an interview, Gates said he came to the decision Tuesday after ensuring that a strong transition plan was in place and that the company "would not miss a beat."

He began by consulting with his wife, Melinda, the foundation's co-chairwoman. He then brought in Ballmer, and later other close advisers, including his father, William Gates Sr., and billionaire investor and famed Gates bridge partner Warren Buffett.

"There's a few key people who always help me with key decisions," Gates said.

Gates showed some anguish in announcing his decision — especially in describing his long relationship with Ballmer.

For now, he said, he is ready to get back to work. When he thinks about what will happen when the change takes place in two years, "I'm sure that will be quite emotional, at least for me," Gates said.

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