Bill Gates’ big mistake

What do you think might be the biggest mistake Bill Gates ever made? It doesn’t seem to have been too costly a mistake as he’s a tech billionaire turned philanthropist.

According to recent interviews reported by CNN Business channel, he has been telling the media that his “greatest mistake” was not ensuring that Microsoft became Apple’s biggest iOS rival.

As the story goes, Microsoft lost out to Google when it came to launching a system to challenge Apple’s iOS. That system of course is Android, used by every phone that isn’t an iPhone. So, you can imagine his regret that Microsoft didn’t manage to get ahead of Google.

Gates told venture capital firm Village Global: “In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets. So the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is. Android is the standard non-Apple phone platform. … There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system.”

Microsfot’s problem stemmed from its domination of the computer market. If you weren’t working on a Mac, you were using a computer with Microsoft’s software. That was it; there were only two choices.

With so much concentrated in the computer market, Microsoft trailed behind Apple in the emerging smartphone sector. Although it needn’t have.

Microsoft came out with its own mobile operating system, called Windows Mobile, in 2000. Apple debuted its iPhone in 2007, followed by Google’s Android platform in 2008. So theoretically Microsoft had the opportunity, but it just didn’t keep up with Apple and then Google.

Gates told the Economic Club in Washington, DC

that the antitrust trial in that period was a major distraction. Moreover, the company didn’t place the best staff to work on mobile.

“We knew the mobile phone would be very popular so we were doing what was called Windows Mobile. We missed being the dominant mobile operating system by a very tiny amount. We were distracted during our antitrust trial. We didn’t assign the best people to do the work. So it’s the biggest mistake I made in terms of something that was clearly within our skillset. We were clearly the company that should have achieved that — and we didn’t.”

Gates also told Village Global that this error cost the company billions of dollars that ultimately went to Google. He also told them, “Our other assets like Windows and Office are still very strong, so we are a leading company. But if we had gotten that one right, we would be THE leading company, but oh well.”

And just so you know; Gates uses an Android phone. Perhaps using an iPhone would have been going just a step too far.

Leadership Matters More Than the Leader

Some people think that a CEO determines the success of a business; that it is their personality and style that is the decisive factor. However,  CEOs come and go, yet the business they are in charge of survives, so I would argue that it is not down to one person and how they do things, but instead it is the leadership strategy that is the key to a company’s longevity.

As Josh Bersin wrote in Forbes magazine: “Long term business performance comes from leadership culture and careful continuous development of leadership at all levels.”

And his research into the business performance of a number of companies with high profile CEOs, indicates that it is the development of leadership within all levels of the business that has the most impact.


The enormous benefit of developing a leadership culture is that it protects the business against changes in ‘personalities’ at the top. The boat is not so easily rocked when a healthy strategy is in place and there are several ways of achieving this kind of stability.

It is noticeable that the best performing businesses link leadership strategy to business strategy. What this means is that operations at the mid and lower levels are aligned in a way that ensures a business thrives. This is achieved through coaching and training programmes that enable the best leaders in the company to rise to the top of departments, and all of them understand that strategy and team work are more important than personalities.

Leadership is not the same as management. For example, ‘management’ is concerned with the overall organisation, planning, integrations, budgets and development. But ‘leadership’ is focused on a very different set of activities, because it is, or should be, based on leading the people who work in the company to ensure its success.

Therefore, leadership develops the following attributes:

  • Motivation
  • Encouragement
  • Selection of talented people
  • Coaching and training
  • Building trust

You can see that these are quite different qualities to those valued by the management function of an organisation. They are all people-centred and focused on getting the best out of everyone, at every level, and on finding the best people for every job.

Leadership is about team building and creating loyalty. It is about making every member of the organisation feel that they have something of value to contribute, regardless of what level they are at. A strong leadership strategy embraces its members, and in a way replicates our notion of family. This in turn creates an emotional investment in the success of a business, which is invaluable to its owners.

When an inclusive and encouraging leadership strategy is firmly established, the business is well defended against any mavericks who might set themselves above the rest of the organisation and try to impose their personal whims on it. Leadership strategy trumps the role of CEO in any business; that’s why leadership is more important than leaders.

Star Wars: The Galactic Economy and the Real World

May 25th this year was the 40th anniversary of the first Star Wars film. Fans of the franchise may wonder what Luke and Co have to do with economics, but if you study the films and look beyond the quirky creatures and the fantasy storylines, you’ll notice that the Star wars story is underpinned by an economic and political system that mirrors the real world. At its most basic, it is economic problems that lead the Empire into war. That is something we are familiar with.


The galaxy and the global economy

To start with, the Star Wars economy is galactic in scope –a situation similar to the globalised economy—and it is based on the working principles of modern trade. For example, planets trade products and services and the trade routes traverse multiple galaxies. This planets based at major intersections on these trade routes tend to do best, and there are plenty of real world examples that match this. Think of where Hong Kong and Singapore are located in Asia, the position of Dubai in relations to Europe, Africa and Asia, London’s location as a bridge between North America and Europe and the list goes on. It also goes way back in time to trade routes like the Silk Road and the Incense Route of antiquity. Cities along these trade routes grew in prosperity and some of them had a monopoly on specific products.

In Star Wars, Bothawui is poised at the crossroads of four trade routes, This makes it a popular meeting place and a venue for trade negotiations. The intergalactic firms operate across several planetary systems – think Microsoft, Coca Cola and all the global businesses we have today that operate in the same way.

The Corporate sector and free zones

It also has a Corporate Sector, which is really like a free trade zone and it has a simplified tax code compared with other parts of the Empire. To make trade easier they also have trade agreements and consortiums that wield political and economic influence. In the real world, we have the Pacific Trade Agreement, the WTO, the EU and EFTA amongst others that act in the same way. And, there is the Intergalactic Banking Clan – a parallel universe for the IMF, ECB and World Bank?

The German economy of the 1930s

George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars based the Galactic Empire’s economy on that of Nazi Germany. As he pointed out, both emerged on the back of an economic crisis. If you watch the films with that in mind, you’ll see other similarities, including the compulsory military service that made both ‘states’ ready for war. The Death Star station is a war machine and there is a dedication to building military might across the Empire that strongly echoes 1930s Germany.

A Military Industrial Complex

And as in the real world, the planets on the Outer Rim of the system are more oriented towards agriculture, design technology and the further out the planet from the centre, the more primitive its economy. Their distance from the power of a Military Industrial Complex, which results in them having weaker economies reflects the situation in the real world.

If you thought Star Wars was just a bit of fun entertainment, perhaps you’ll watch the whole series again and realise that George Lucas was giving us all a lesson in world economics, in the most entertaining format he could come up with.


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The Bruce Lee Spirit

Cast your mind back 44 years and the release of “Enter the Dragon’ starring Bruce Lee. It brought martial arts films into the global arena and popularised Lee’s specific form of unarmed Kung Fu films. Lee’s films made in Hong Kong, like “Fist of Fury” and “Way of the Dragon” attracted Hollywood’s attention and they realised that there was an audience for this kind of movie. As Paul Bowman, one of Bruce Lee’s biographers wrote: “A whole ‘Bruce Lee generation’ grew up in the wake of this transformation: the Tarantinos, the Wu Tang Clans, untold numbers of kids, choreographers, athletes, artists, cinematographers, and more, whose inspiration continues to be Bruce Lee.” I’d add entrepreneurs like myself to the list, who found in Bruce Lee a business and life mentor as much as an entertainer.


There is so much more to Bruce Lee’s legacy than a few films. Although his life was sadly brief, he had huge goals and he achieved them. He challenged racial stereotypes, took martial arts mainstream and had a movie career, but he also provided a series of inspirational quotes, which I’d encourage any business entrepreneur to stick in a prominent place and refer to them daily.


I interpret this as – make the most of your life by creating value to those around you.


Placing limits on what you can do will keep you trapped. Don’t put them on yourself, and don’t let others do it either. To realise your full potential you must ignore the idea of limitations and keep breaking through any self-imposed barriers.


You must define yourself. When you create a strong and amazing self-image, then you’ll grow into your own expectations.

He also said: “As you think, so you shall become.”  This echoes what he says above, but puts it in a more succinct way. Know you have a ‘very best’ in you, believe it and you’ll become it.


I love this one because it’s so valuable in business. It is good to set goals, but never think that they are the end destination; they are just milestones on your journey. They keep you moving in the right direction, which is why making a plan with targets to meet is motivating.


In other words, don’t sit around thinking and dreaming about what you’re going to do; take some action, any action, no matter how small, to make what’s in your head become a ‘thing’ in the world.

This is just a small selection from Bruce Lee’s inspirational approach to life and I recommend you find out more about his philosophy for living and apply it to your business and personal life.

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