Who is Michael Larson? Bill Gates' manager allegedly showed NUDES at work, rated women and bullied staff
Bill Gates' money manager Michael Larson has also been accused of racism and one woman who accused him of exposing himself was reportedly paid off
The person responsible for managing a majority of Bill Gates' vast fortune is now in the eye of a storm. Michael Larson has been accused of making racist and sexist comments in the office and even showing nude pictures of women. Employees have claimed that Larson, 61, is an infamous bully who disparaged his female staff and tortured those around him.
At a work Christmas party in the mid-2000s, sources told NYT that Larson was seated outdoors with a small group of male employees after dinner and three of their female colleagues were standing about 20 feet away. "Which one of them do you wanna f**k," Larson asked the men. When a female co-worker was attending Weight Watchers, Larson allegedly asked if it was to lose weight for him. Another woman at his firm was allegedly asked by Larson if she would strip for a certain amount of money. These revelations about Larson come after the May 4 announcement of Bill and Melinda Gates's divorce. Reports reveal that Melinda was not happy with an investigation into Larson, in 2018, which ended with the woman involved receiving a payoff. Larson's firm, Cascade Investments, existed entirely to manage the Gates' money. At times the Gates were also dragged into complaints about Larson.
One woman who managed a local bike store, which was mostly owned by a firm, Rally Capital, that Cascade had invested in, filed a complaint that Larson repeatedly propositioned her. In a lawyer's letter sent to the Gates, she threatened to sue Larson and claimed that he had exposed himself to her and said that he wanted to have sex with her and another woman. Bill reportedly came forward and agreed to settle the matter by giving the woman some money. Melinda insisted that an outside investigator review the incident and Cascade's culture. An investigation took place in 2018 and Larson went on leave, but only to return in 2019. Melinda was said to be unsatisfied with the outcome.
In 1993, when the Gates' previous financial manager, Andrew L Evans, was sent to prison for bank fraud, Bill wanted to hire someone for the position. In the ensuing scandal, Bill, in 1994, hired Larson. After taking the job, Larson decided to go "off the radar," said Roger McNamee, a co-founder of Elevation Partners, a Silicon Valley firm that was an early investor in Facebook. A former employee told NYT that the philosophy was: "We don't want Bill's name in the headlines." Larson's company, which is in Washington state near the offices of both Bill and Melinda Gates' companies and Microsoft, grew and had more than 100 employees, all working to increase the wealth of both the Gates and their Foundation.
The article also suggests that Larson is known to be a comparatively traditional investor, who preferred safe bets to huge risks. He invested their money in farmland, hotels, stocks, bonds even a bowling alley. Thanks to Larson's team and the rise in value of Microsoft's shares, Bill's fortune has gone from less than $10B to about $130B.
In September 2014, Bill and Melinda held a dinner for Larson at their Seattle mansion, nicknamed Xanadu 2.0, to celebrate his 20 years of working with them. Gates gave a toast to Larson, reported at the time, and said Larson has his "complete trust and faith". He added: "Melinda and I are free to pursue our vision of a healthier and better-educated world because of what Michael has done." Even though Larson and Bill were not friends and did not mingle socially, Bill appeared to have Larson's back.
"They're not two buddies, for sure," said Steve Walsh, former chief executive of Legg Mason Inc.'s Western Asset Management unit, who has known Larson for years. Walsh said he was impressed by the 2014 party. "It was almost tender - and endearing," he told The Wall Street Journal.
Stacy Ybarra, who joined the company in 2001 as an investor relations analyst, announced that she was leaving in 2004 for another firm, InfoSpace. Larson reportedly got angry with this decision and allegedly set out to sabotage her new company telling Ybarra and others that he had shorted InfoSpace's stock out of spite, according to the three people, who heard about his statements at the time, The New York Times said. Ybarra later decided to stay at Larson's firm.
In November of that year, Larson was asking his staff about the best time to vote for the presidential election. Ybarra, who is Black, said that she had voted that morning without having to wait in line. To which, Larson responded: "But you live in the ghetto, and everybody knows that black people don't vote." Complaints were made after this incident, and Bill and Melinda later had a talk with him as part of an investigation.
Chris Giglio, Larson's spokesman, has denied that he had made the racist remark. "During his tenure, Larson has managed over 380 people, and there have been fewer than five complaints related to him in total," Giglio said. "Any complaint was investigated and treated seriously and fully examined, and none merited Mr Larson's dismissal."
In November 2006, the Gates were alerted about Larson in a letter from Robert E Sydow, a California fund manager who had been close friends with Larson and was godfather to one of Larson's children. Sydow warned Larson that he needed to stop using his power to hurt others in "anger," and in the letter to the Gates warned them about a toxic environment at the firm.
As a result, Larson's office was moved to a different floor away from his staff. All the employees including Larson were required to undergo sexual harassment and sensitivity training. Yet, one former employee said that Larson did not seem to take it seriously. They recalled him saying: "We don't need this." Giglio denied that.