Six Sigma Leadership Profile: Bill Gates

Bill Gates wrote his first software program at the age of 13. He cofounded the Microsoft Corporation, the world’s largest personal-computer software company when he was twenty. He is currently the richest man in America, frequently topping Forbes’ list of the world’s wealthiest people. In addition to his work in computer technology, he is also an extremely generous philanthropist as Co-Chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Despite dropping out of Harvard University in 1975, Gates has gone on to become a major figure in the business world. Now, in his 61st year, he stays on at Microsoft as a board member and Technology Advisor. He is a household name, renowned as one of history’s most groundbreaking innovators of technology. In short, Bill Gates is a success. But what is the secret to his success?

These days, Six Sigma is a driving factor behind many accomplished individuals and successful corporations. Microsoft is no different. Six Sigma demands great leadership, and Bill Gates is a great leader in both the business and technology sectors. Today we look at how Gates’s personal qualities relate to Six Sigma, as well as how Microsoft has used Six Sigma in the past.

How Gates Started Out

While still in high school, young Bill Gates worked with a group of programmers to computerize their school’s payroll system. The school even allowed him to organize their scheduling system for classes using his coding expertise. Gates was a programming prodigy from an early age, which held him in good stead when he became a sophomore at Harvard University in 1975. It was at this time that Gates and Paul G. Allen began developing early software for what would be the world’s first line of microcomputers. By adapting and downscaling BASIC, a common programming language used in large computers, they streamlined it to suit their needs. This was the first step on Gates’s road to technology mogul, as he decided to drop out of college in his first year. He founded Microsoft with Allen soon after.

Gates was a pioneer in the development of microcomputer industry, which expanded considerably as Microsoft began licensing their operating system MS-DOS to the International Business Machines Corporation. IBM, the largest computer supplier at the time, began using Microsoft’s OS in their IBM PCs. This collaboration led to one of the greatest innovations in the history of technology, leading to many clones utilizing Microsoft’s OS. The early success of the company ensured Gates, by the start of the 1990s, would become the PC industry’s greatest kingpin. He retains that title even today as one of the history’s most influential entrepreneurs.

How Gates Did It

Gates is renowned for his genius-level business acumen, myriad flexible skillset, and his endless drive to improve software and technology capabilities. He is a man for whom anything is possible, striving for constant improvement in everything he does. Does this sort of thinking sound familiar? Six Sigma and Lean are both aimed at improving business processes, streamlining production, and increasing efficiency. They do so in different ways, but they share a common goal. Similarly, kaizen (also known as continuous improvement) is plain to see in all of Gates’s work. Kaizen is a culture to be maintained, not a quick one-for-all solution. You must nurture and enforce it to achieve success. It is clear to us that Bill Gates has and has always had the kaizen mindset. As such, along with Six Sigma, this may have been a driving force behind some of his greatest achievements!

Furthermore, from the mid-nineteen-nineties, Gates turned Microsoft’s focus towards developing consumer and enterprise web-based software solutions. The development of the internet changed the world, and Gates was quick to recognize its potential. Under his watch, Microsoft developed their Windows CE OS platform for use with networking noncomputer devices, compatible with everything from televisions and personal digital assistants. Gate’s adroit response to the rush of interest in all things internet represents what we know as value stream mapping. This is a Lean Six Sigma management tool for analyzing consumer demand and acting to meet it. Six Sigma work aims to improve process efficiency through recognizing problems (and solutions) and acting appropriately. Gates shows a definite understanding of how to maximize business success. As such, we must assume he knows a thing or two about Six Sigma!

Microsoft and Six Sigma: Case Study

In 2013, Microsoft began reorganizing its leadership to take advantage of new opportunities in the technology sector. Hoping to foster success through a revitalized management structure, the software giant subsequently reshuffled their executive leadership. Traditional PC sales had started to decline as mobile devices like smartphones and tablets have gained popularity. However, since then, Microsoft has remained the world’s leading personal computer manufacturer and software developer. Six Sigma work underpinned much of this success Microsoft.

One of their most pressing problems was that they suffered from a lack of efficiency, which hindered them from reacting to new market trends. Their organizational strategy was not properly streamlined, which held them back and allowed competitors to prosper. Companies like Apple and Google have gained prominence in the last few decades, due in part to Microsoft’s struggle to adapt. But the company’s management shakeup has employed an alternative approach, enabling them to respond to changing demands while improving alignment between the company’s internal departments.

Embracing Efficiency to Improve Prospects

In 2013, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stated that these leadership changes represent the organization’s new philosophy. He also expressed his hopes that the change would propel the company forward, driving future successes. Microsoft has since replaced their previous outdated, segmented style of departmental management with a far more collective, interdepartmental approach. Like Six Sigma, which relies on a hierarchical Belt-based management structure, Microsoft has streamlined its organization to great effect. Similarly, this also relates to Six Sigma’s practice of eliminating none-value-adding process stages. Microsoft has focused each of their departments and clearly defined their responsibilities. Furthermore, by allocating resources appropriately, they can develop and build devices and solutions that both please the customer and maximize shareholder returns. The organization continues to consolidate its structure through eight core divisions:

  • Focused on developing new and existing products, pushing for innovative new ways of production.
  • Handles the marketing of the company and its products to the consumer population at large.
  • Business Development & Evangelism. Pursues strategic opportunities for cultivating partnerships and commercial relationships, as well as recognizing new markets for products and services. Works closely with marketing to spread the Microsoft gospel, advocating its products and services, garnering support from consumers and shareholders.
  • Advanced Strategy & Research. Develops a corporate strategy for attaining their wider objectives, conducting research for how they can achieve these goals.
  • Manages revenue, including planning, organizing, auditing, and accounting for the company’s finances.
  • Human Resources. Responsible for payroll, employee benefits, hiring, firing, and ensuring the company complies with state and federal tax laws.
  • Ensures the company upholds ethical guidelines, laws, and company policies, as well as maintaining clear, measurable strategies aligned with executive priorities.
  • COO (Chief Operating Officer). A sole individual, separate from the CEO, responsible for the daily operation of the organization.

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