On Monday, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will release the first annual letter of Bill Gates. A foundation or a big philanthropist releasing a letter or annual update is no big deal. But I’m hopeful that Warren Buffett’s influence might make this letter something special (at least over time).
In the investment world, lots of great investors and investment companies release annual letters. But the release of Warren Buffett’s letter is a huge event. The days leading up to the release are filled with speculation. The letter itself is covered by the press and dissected by bloggers and investors around the world. The letters are considered so outstanding, that they have been collected into book form. The letters draw such attention because they are not simply reviews of the past year, they are an imparting of wisdom from one of the great investors of all time. And they are written with the folksy charm that is so characteristic of Buffett.
According to my contact at the Gates Foundation, Bill’s letter is “loosely modeled on and inspired by Warren Buffett’s” letter and indeed “it was Warren Buffet who encouraged Bill to write [it].” But The Economist magazine, which apparently has a preview copy of the letter writes today:
The idea for the letter came from his old friend and philanthropic partner Warren Buffett, boss of Berkshire Hathaway, whose annual letter to his shareholders is a highlight of the business calendar. Whether letters from Mr Gates will come to be awaited as keenly as missives from the “Sage of Omaha” remains to be seen. If they do, it will not be for the jokes. In the first paragraph of his first epistle, which will be released on January 26th, Mr Gates says he will not try to match Mr Buffett’s famously folksy humour: “I won’t be quoting Mae West.”
…Mr Gates promises that his annual letters will be candid and self-critical, which should provide some comfort for those who criticise his foundation for being unaccountable.
…Yet as well as being candid about himself, Mr Gates should in future be more candid about the performance of others without whom his philanthropy cannot succeed, especially politicians. In the first letter, he points only one finger—at the Italian government, led by Silvio Berlusconi, which is reneging on its promised development aid—while giving other governments the benefit of the doubt that they will honour their promises.
The Economist article also talks about the idea that “Nice Bill”, as seen in his role at the foundation, is not the “Real Bill” who engaged in heat disagreements with other executives when he was building Microsoft. Personally I hope that over time, Gates’ annual letters allow the “Real Bill” to come out and that they capture the spirit, if not the folksy wisdom, of Warren Buffett.
You can sign up to receive the annual letter by clicking here.