A culture of fear in the firm that manages the fate of Bill Gates


Prior to Mr. Larson, Mr. Gates had financial advisor Andrew L. Evans, a longtime friend who had previously served a six-month prison sentence for bank fraud. (Mr. Gates visits him in prison.) But when Mr. Evans’ criminal record made headlines in a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal in 1993, Mr. Gates sought a new money manager.

The following year, he hired Mr. Larson, formerly a fund manager at Putnam Investments. In 1995, the Cascades were incorporated into the state of Washington. The generic-sounding name without reference to Mr. Gates allowed Mr. Larson to run a huge investment operation with a low public profile.

From the very beginning, Cascade, whose only task was to manage Gates’ money, was deeply involved with the wider Gates universe, including Microsoft. The firm is in the same office park in Kirkland, Wash., Where Mr. Gates ‘personal office is across the street from Gates Ventures, and Ms. French Gates’ own group, Pivotal Ventures. Over the years, the employees have moved between Cascade, the Gates Foundation, Microsoft, two Gates ventures, and K&L Gates, the law firm where Mr. Gates’ father was a named partner. In 2005, when Cascade needed a new HR executive, the company hired a Microsoft veteran.

Mr. Larson regularly hired freshmen out of college or in the early stages of his career. His alma mater, a graduate of Claremont McKenna College, was a particular favorite. The college has several scholarships offered by Mr. Larson.

Some employees saw working in the Cascades as a way to make the world a better place. Because Cascade also oversees the $ 50 billion endowment of the Gates Foundation, helping it do well for things like fighting malaria and funding for education. Others said they were influenced by the idea of ​​working for Mr. Gates, who founded Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen.

Throughout his tenure, Mr. Larsen earned steady returns for Mr. Gates. He invested largely in undervalued, old-fashioned stocks, leaving hot tech companies. When the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, the strategy paid off. Mr. Larsen also saved Mr. Gates’ assets from the sharpest recession in 2008 and 2009.



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