The Gateses’ Public Split Spotlights a Secretive Fortune
NICHOLAS KULISH, DAVID GELLES, ANUPREETA DAS, KATE KELLY
The fortune of Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates exceeds the size of Morocco’s annual economy, combines the value of Ford, Twitter and Marriott International and is triple the endowment of Harvard. While few know how their wealth will be divided in the divorce, one thing is clear: breaking it up can’t be easy.
比尔·盖茨(Bill Gates)和梅琳达·弗兰奇·盖茨(Melinda French Gates)的财富超过了摩洛哥的全年经济总额，是福特(Ford)、Twitter和万豪国际(Marriott International)市值的总和，是哈佛大学捐赠基金的三倍。虽然没什么人知道他们离婚后会如何分割财富，但很显然：分割这些财富不是一件容易的事。
Mr. Gates built one of the great fortunes in human history when he founded Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen. The Gateses’ net worth is estimated to be more than $124 billion, and includes assets as varied as trophy real estate, public company stocks and rare artifacts.
There’s a big stake in the luxury Four Seasons hotel chain. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and ranch land, including Buffalo Bill’s historic Wyoming ranch. There are billions of dollars’ worth of shares in companies like AutoNation and Waste Management. There’s a beachfront mansion in Southern California. And one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.
他是豪华酒店连锁四季(Four Seasons)的大股东，有数十万英亩的农田和牧场，其中包括历史悠久的水牛比尔(Buffalo Bill)的怀俄明州牧场。拥有诸如AutoNation和废弃物管理公司(Waste Management)之类的企业数十亿美元的股份。在南加州有一所海边豪宅。还有列奥纳多·达·芬奇(Leonardo da Vinci)的一个笔记本。
“The amount of money and the diversity of assets that are involved in this divorce boggles the imagination,” said David Aronson, a lawyer who has represented wealthy clients in divorce cases. “There have rarely been cases that are even close to this in size.”
Only the 2019 divorce between the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his now ex-wife, the novelist and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, was bigger. Mr. Bezos had an estimated fortune of $137 billion, though mostly in Amazon stock, and Ms. Scott kept 4 percent of Amazon’s shares, worth $36 billion at the time.
只有一个例外，涉及的资产价值还要更多，那就是2019年亚马逊创始人杰夫·贝佐斯(Jeff Bezos)和他现在的前妻、小说家兼慈善家麦肯琪·斯科特(MacKenzie Scott)的离婚案。贝佐斯的财富估计为1370亿美元，尽管大部分是亚马逊股票，斯科特保留了亚马逊4％的股份，当时价值360亿美元。
But Mr. Gates has for decades been diversifying his holdings; he owns just 1.3 percent of Microsoft. Instead, his stock portfolio includes stakes in dozens of publicly traded companies. He is the largest private owner of farmland in the country, according to The Land Report. In addition to the Four Seasons, he has stakes in other luxury hotels and a company that caters to private jet owners. His real estate portfolio includes one of the largest houses in the country and several equestrian facilities. He owns stakes in a clean energy investment fund and a nuclear energy start-up.
但比尔·盖茨几十年来一直在多样化他的资产。他仅拥有1.3％的微软股份，但他的股票投资组合包括了数十家上市公司的股份。根据《土地报告》(The Land Report)，他是美国最大的农田私人拥有者。除了四季酒店外，他还拥有其他豪华酒店的股份以及一家专为私人飞机所有者服务的公司。他的房地产投资组合包括全国最大的豪宅之一和一些马术设施。他拥有清洁能源投资基金和一家核能初创企业的股份。
There is also the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Separate from the rest of the Gates fortune, with an endowment of $50 billion, the foundation is one of the world’s largest charitable organizations and plays a uniquely important role in global public health. The endowment is in a trust and cannot be divided as part of the marital estate, though questions remain about whether it will be the main recipient of their charitable contributions once the split is complete.
还有比尔和梅琳达·盖茨基金会(Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)。该基金会与盖茨的其他财富分开来，拥有500亿美元的捐赠，是世界上最大的慈善组织之一，在全球公共卫生中发挥着无人能及的重要作用。捐赠是信托的，不能作为婚姻财产的一部分进行分拆。尚不清楚在财产分割后，基金会是否仍然是两人慈善捐款的主要接受者。
The couple has a separation agreement in place, according to the divorce filing by Ms. French Gates, but the details are not disclosed. The filing asks the court to divide their real estate, personal property and debts according to the terms set forth in that agreement. Lawyers for Ms. French Gates have been working on a plan for separating some of the assets since 2019, a person with knowledge of the matter said.
Divorce lawyers not working on the Gates split say some of the personal assets could be hard to value, hard to separate and highly complex. Some of the wealth has already been divided: Soon after the announcement, $2.4 billion worth of shares in AutoNation, Canadian National Railway and two Mexican companies belonging to the couple were transferred to Ms. French Gates — making her a billionaire in her own right.
未参与盖茨离婚案的离婚律师表示，某些个人资产可能难以估价，难以分割且非常复杂。其中一些财富已经被分割了：宣布离婚后不久，价值24亿美元的AutoNation、加拿大国家铁路公司(Canadian National Railway)和两家属于这对夫妇的墨西哥公司的股份被转移给了弗兰奇·盖茨，这使她成为了亿万富翁。
An itemized list might be harder to come by.
“Divorces are actually one of the times that things crack open and the light shines in,” said Chuck Collins, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and author of “The Wealth Hoarders: How Billionaires Pay Millions to Hide Trillions.” But he added that prenuptial agreements and settlements were designed for privacy. “Parts of a prenup are about nondisclosure about all the family trusts and things,” he said. “They’ve got that all lined up before you fall in love.”
华盛顿政策研究所(Institute for Policy Studies)高级学者、《财富囤积者：亿万富翁如何花百万美元来掩藏万亿美元》(The Wealth Hoarders: How Billionaires Pay Millions to Hide Trillions)一书的作者查克·科林斯(Chuck Collins)表示：“离婚实际上是拨云见日的时候。”但是他还说，婚前协议及和解的初衷是保护隐私。“婚前协议的一部分是关于所有家庭信托和事情的保密协议，”他说。“在你坠入爱河之前，他们就已经准备好了。”
At the same time, lawyers point out that the issues that cause friction in the average divorce are completely absent for the stratospherically wealthy.
“It’s almost easier to settle a case like this, if the parties are inclined to do so, than it is to settle a case where people live comfortably, but don’t have enough to live comfortably once they split everything in half,” Mr. Aronson said. “For these people, it will only change to the extent of how many billions of dollars they can give away to whatever they want.”
A Secretively Managed Fortune
At the center of both the Gates fortune and the Gates Foundation endowment is a little-known entity called Cascade Investment. Based in Kirkland, Wash., and run by Michael Larson, a former bond fund manager for Putnam Investments, Cascade has overseen both the endowment and most of the personal wealth of Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates for decades.
盖茨的财富和盖茨基金会两者捐赠的核心均指向一个鲜为人知的名为瀑布投资(Cascade Investment)的实体。该公司总部位于华盛顿州的柯克兰，由普特南投资公司(Putnam Investments)前债券基金经理迈克尔·拉尔森(Michael Larson)经营，数十年来，瀑布投资一直负责比尔·盖茨和弗兰奇·盖茨的捐款和大部分个人财富。
Mr. Gates began reducing his stake in Microsoft beginning with the initial public offering in 1986, when he owned 45 percent of the company, a stake worth $350 million at the time. Today, he has an estimated net worth of $124 billion, according to Forbes, or $146 billion, according to the research firm Wealth-X. Including the Gates Foundation’s endowment and the Gates personal fortune, Cascade most likely oversees assets that put it on par or beyond some of the world’s biggest hedge funds in size.
Mr. Larson operates Cascade with an obsessive level of secrecy, going to great lengths to cloak the firm’s transactions so that they can’t easily be traced back to the Gateses. In a 1999 interview with Fortune magazine, Mr. Larson said he chose the name “Cascade” because it was a generic-sounding name in the Pacific Northwest.
Mr. Larson’s wealth-management strategy is grounded in value investing — a long-term approach to finding solid, underpriced stocks. This approach is often associated with Warren E. Buffett, who is a close friend of Mr. Gates. Mr. Larson focuses on buying and holding brick-and-mortar companies rather than high-growth technology stocks. (Mr. Gates chooses his tech investments and holds them outside Cascade.)
拉尔森的财富管理策略以价值投资为基础——寻找扎实、低价股票的长线做法。这种方法通常与比尔·盖茨的密友沃伦·巴菲特(Warren E. Buffett)有关。拉尔森专注于购买和持有实体公司，而不是高增长的科技股。（比尔·盖茨的科技投资由他自己选择，并在瀑布投资之外持有。)
That strategy pays off for foundations and family wealth, both of which tend to focus on wealth preservation rather than making risky bets.
“He has delivered the best possible outcome for decades, with absolute discretion,” said Roger McNamee, a Silicon Valley investor who helped found the private-equity firm Elevation Partners and has worked with Mr. Larson in the past.
硅谷投资者罗杰·麦克纳姆(Roger McNamee)说：“数十年来，他绝对谨慎行事，获得了最好的结果。”麦克纳姆曾帮助创立私募股权公司Elevation Partners，并曾与拉尔森有过合作。
Mr. Larson has a particular fondness for luxury hotels, betting that top properties withstand recessions better than budget lodgings. Cascade owns various Four Seasons hotels, including one in Whistler, Canada, as well as the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Mass.
In 2007, Mr. Gates teamed up to buy the Four Seasons hotel management company with Prince Alwaleed bin Talal for $3.8 billion, with each taking a 47.5 percent stake. Although Cascade has said it is committed to Four Seasons for the long haul, in recent years both Cascade and Kingdom Holding, Prince Alwaleed’s family office, have flirted with the idea of exiting at least part of their investment, according to a person familiar with their thinking.
2007年，比尔·盖茨与阿尔瓦利德·本·塔拉勒亲王(Prince Alwaleed bin Talal)联手以38亿美元的价格收购了四季酒店管理公司，两人分别持股47.5％。根据一位了解两人想法的人士说，尽管瀑布公司表示将长期持有四季酒店，但近年来，瀑布和阿尔瓦利德亲王家族办公室的王国控股公司都有过退出至少部分投资的想法。
Late in 2019, Mr. Gates and Prince Alwaleed discussed the possibility of an initial public offering of stock at a valuation of $10 billion, the person said. The idea of an I.P.O. or a private sale of one or both stakes has been broached again in recent months, the person added.
Kingdom officials did not respond to requests for comment. A Cascade spokesman declined to comment.
The Future of Their Philanthropy
Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates have played such an outsize role in philanthropy that questions about the future of the Gates Foundation immediately arose following news of the divorce. The foundation directs billions to 135 countries to help fight poverty and disease. As of 2019, it had given away nearly $55 billion. (In 2006, Mr. Buffett pledged $31 billion of his fortune to the Gates Foundation, greatly increasing its grant making.)
Since he stepped down from day-to-day operations at Microsoft in 2008, Mr. Gates has devoted much of his time to the foundation. He also runs Gates Ventures, a firm that invests in companies working on climate change and other issues. Over the decades, Mr. Gates shed the image of a ruthless tech executive battling the United States government on antitrust to be viewed as a global do-gooder. And he appears to be keenly aware of the stark contrast between the scale of his wealth and his role as a philanthropist. “I’ve been disproportionately rewarded for the work I’ve done — while many others who work just as hard struggle to get by,” he acknowledged in a year-end blog post from 2019.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was created in 2000. Today, the two serve as its co-chairs, which the foundation has said will not change after the divorce is complete.
But Ms. French Gates has recently been more public about the efforts of her other group, Pivotal Ventures, which is focused on gender equality and social progress. It remains unclear what level of resources will be at her disposal when the divorce is complete, but Ms. French Gates will most likely still wield enormous influence in the world of philanthropy.
“There’s no explanation how you get to be in this situation of privilege,” Ms. French Gates told The New York Times last year. “There’s just none.”