Our view: Bill Gates slept here ...

July 17, 2012 9:50:43 AM



Last Tuesday was sort of a "George Washington Slept Here'' moment for Columbus when Bill Gates quietly slipped into town and toured the KiOR facilities for a few hours. Gates is a limited partner in a group that is a major financial backer of KiOR. 


That Gates slipped into and out of town without fanfare is easy enough to grasp: Gates wanted it that way. So that was that. 


It must have been more than mildly frustrating to the folks at KiOR, however. KiOR is a pretty media-savvy operation. Trumpeting the presence of someone of Gates' nature is a public relations dream. Quick: Give the man a KiOR ball cap and take the photo! 


But when you are Bill Gates, you set the terms of such things and no one is in much of a position to argue. For KiOR, his visit was tantamount to a deacon skipping church to play golf and then making a hole-in-one: It's a great event that you can't tell anyone about. 


And this certainly qualifies as a great event for the company, even if his visit was little more than a cursory tour.  


Gates occupies an interesting position in modern history. 


He is no Edison. He did not invent the Internet. Nor is Gates a Steve Jobs, whose products are ubiquitous. He is more along the lines of a Henry Ford, a man who brought the Internet and computers into the homes of millions of people all over the world. In creating the world's first true software company, he is a progression of Gutenberg. 


From what we propose to know of Gates, it is unlikely that he spends much time or energy on surveying the sweep of his contributions or even of his legacy. 


He seems far more curious about what lies ahead than what has happened before, even if that past bears his indelible impression. 


It is that single quality - that innate curiosity - that has made him not only a giant in his time, but perhaps an even bigger figure once he has gone.  


To date, Gates has poured $28 billion into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The primary aims of the foundation are to reduce poverty, enhance healthcare and expand educational opportunities. The Foundation is forever churning with new ideas to address those global issues. 


It is likely that the foundation that bears Gates' name will influence the world to an even greater degree than his contributions to mass communication. 


It is doubtful that Gates is preoccupied by his impact on either the field of communications or philanthropy. 


Gates' financial interests are so plentiful and so varied that it is doubtful that his visit was simply a matter of checking in on an investment. The second-wealthiest man in the world isn't likely to examine seat cushions for loose change, after all.  


You strongly suspect that there was another reason that Gates was compelled to visit Columbus. He is consumed with what's new. And that's why a visit to KiOR seems consistent with his character. KiOR's role as a biofuel innovator is just the sort of product that fires Gates' imagination.  


The company is not saying anything about Gates' visit or what his impressions might have been.  


You can bet they would like to, though. 


For now, at least, all that can be said is: Bill Gates Toured Here.'' 


Now if Gates will just let them put that on a T-shirt...