An emotional Bill Gates said good-bye to Microsoft in a celebration this morning filled with gauzy memories and a candid assessment of his legacy.
“My life’s work really is about software and working with incredible people,” Gates said with tears in his eyes. “And I love working with smart people. I love working with Steve. I love working with all the incredible people here.”
Today is Gates’ last day as a full-time Microsoft employee. He will focus most of his attention now on philanthropy at the helm of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
More than 800 employees, figures from the company’s past, family members filled a room in the company’s large corporate conference center to watch the event. Other employees watched in cafeterias around the Redmond campus or at their desks on computers in offices around the world.
He was joined on stage by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Gates’ close friend, right-hand man and successor. Ballmer said he struggled with an adequate way to mark Gates’ departure after 33 years and the creation of an industry — and the dominant company in it. First, he gave Gates a scrapbook. Then he said an emotional thank you.
He said every individual at Microsoft, “whether you started last week or whether you started 28 years ago,” has the opportunity to contribute to society, develop and grow as professionals, to work with the best and the brightest in the world and to prosper personally.
“We’ve been given a enormous opportunity, and Bill gave us that opportunity,” Ballmer said, choking out the words through tears. “I want to thank Bill for that and I want you to, too.”