Bill Gates was one of the world’s best-known child prodigies. He’d dropped out of Harvard and founded Microsoft at the age of 20, and was already a billionaire by the age of 31. But even when Bill Gates was the world’s richest man, he did something that even mid-level executives would today baulk at.
Bill Gates used to fly economy class on airplanes till the age of 42. At that point, he was worth $40 billion, and Microsoft was one of the most valuable companies in the world. However Gates, like other Microsoft employees, used to fly on economy class on airlines. On long trips, he used to throw a blanket over his head and sleep.
Gates wasn’t just being frugal. Gates knew that Microsoft employees at that point were also barred from upgrading to business class, and were only allowed to do so on international flights. So Gates himself too only flew economy class on domestic flights so as to not have a different rule for himself than the rest of his staff.
Gates, however, relented in 1997, and finally bought himself a private jet for $21 million. At that point, he was worth $40 billion. But even then, he made sure to pay for the jet with his own money, as opposed to having Microsoft pay for his jet. “‘He is flying so much (buying the jet) really does make sense, but he doesn’t think the company should be paying for it,” his spokesperson had then said. ”It has just become too difficult to map his schedule to the commercial airline schedule,” she said, saying that Gates would continue to fly commercial ”when it makes sense.”
Gates didn’t stay long at Microsoft after that, and in 2000, stepped aside to let Steve Ballmer be the CEO. But his taking economy class flights would’ve sent a message to his team — he was willing to lead from the front, and have the same set of rules as he would have for his employees. It would’ve made an incongruous sight to see Bill Gates hunched up on his laptop in economy class, but the richest man in the world did indeed travel coach at one point in time.