Leadership by Geoff Colvin

The Gates Foundation's new boss

September 25, 2008: 2:44 PM ET

Bill Gates is here in New York preaching his message about philanthropy. This morning he spoke to the UN General Assembly. Yesterday he chatted on stage with Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative. Back in Seattle, meanwhile, a new guy is in charge of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. His name is Jeff Raikes. Sound familiar? Raikes was at Microsoft (MSFT) for 27 years, coming from Apple (APPL) in 1981. He rose to president of Microsoft's business division. This month, he shifted gears and joined the Gates Foundation as its new CEO.

Raikes, 50, has enormous shoes to fill, taking over from Patty Stonesifer, who had been CEO for 11 years and just accepted a job as the new chairwoman of the Smithsonian. But he seems to be the right choice to take the foundation into its next phase, for several reasons. Raikes and his wife, Tricia, whom I got to know when I wrote a Fortune cover story about Melinda Gates last January, are not only close friends of the Gateses (and the first "Microsoft couple," as he told me, when they both worked at the company in the early days). But as co-chairs of the United Way of King County, where Seattle is located, they also broke records for fundraising.

Barely a month into his new job, Raikes is putting his stamp on the culture at the Gates Foundation. In sessions with employees, he's been talking about his 10 values and how he works them into his life and career. Value No. 1: work ethic. He grew up on a Nebraska corn farm, so it was up early and work hard. During summers, when he returned home from college at Stanford, he wanted to drive the tractor -- the plum job -- but often got stuck shoveling manure. "You have to know how to do it all," he says.

He's plainspoken, bordering on folksy, but the style seems to work with a Foundation staff that's all about saving the world. The other values that Raikes says he lives by:

- Passion

- Always do your best

- Sense of humor

- Devotion to community

- Service

- Honesty and integrity

- Conservative spending

- Education

- Diversity

On the last point, Raikes' college experience was formative. His first year at Stanford, he was randomly assigned to the African-American dorm. There he was, the token white guy from the Nebraska farm. Raikes' roommate was from inner-city Lincoln. Many of the guys in the dorm became Raikes' close friends. He later became the RA of that dorm.

Another reason why Raikes may be the right man to lead the world's largest foundation: He's pals with that other powerful Nebraskan, Warren Buffett. This matters because Buffett has pledged to give the bulk of his wealth to the Gates Foundation. Raikes and Buffett bond over philanthropy and Nebraska football. Go Cornhuskers!

P.S. For a piece of Bill Gates' wisdom on giving, see today's Power Point on Postcards.

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Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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