Background Of Bill Gates And Oprah Winfrey Commerce Essay

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2.1 Bill Gates

William (Bill) Henry Gates III was born in Seattle - USA, in 1955. His father was a successful attorney and his mother was a teacher. His two sisters and him were encouraged to be competitive and strive for excellence since young.

At age 13, Gates discovered his interest in software and began programming computers at the private Lakeside School (Microsoft 2010).

In 1973, Gates enrolled at Harvard University but dropped out half-way as he wanted to devote all his energies on his start-up software business with his friend and business partner, Paul Allen. His company "Microsoft", the world's first microcomputer software company, was born in 1975.

In 1980, Gates was offered an agreement to provide the operating system (MS-DOS) for IBM's new PC. He secured his future by insisting that Microsoft retained the copyright to the system, so that he could also license it to other hardware manufacturers. This contractual masterstroke helped propel Microsoft into its position as the country's largest software company (Davidson 2009).

In 2002, Gates topped the Forbes 400 list of the world's wealthiest individuals, with a personal fortune of $43 billion (Krames 2003).

Gates handed the reins and the title of CEO over to Steve Ballmer in 2000, as Gates became Chairman and acted as Chief Software Architect to help in developing next-generation products (Krames, 2003).

Since 2006, Ray Ozzie has assumed Gates' previous title as Chief Software Architect as Gates wanted to devote an increasing proportion of his time to the philanthropic "The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation" (Microsoft 2010). However, Gates continues to serve as Microsoft's Chairman and an advisor on key development projects after July 2008 (Microsoft 2010).

2.2 Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Gail Winfrey was born illegitimate in Mississippi - USA, in 1954. She began speaking in front of audiences since she was only 4 years old, touring local churches and reciting others' sermons by memory (O'Neil 2004).

From age 6 to 13, she stayed with her mother in Milwaukee but suffered repeated abuse and molestation by her relatives. Oprah was subsequently sent to live with her father, Vernon Winfrey, in Nashville, who helped to turn her life around.

He taught her that she always had to pursue excellence in order to succeed. Oprah absorbed that attitude and said, "There's no such thing as failure in my life, I just don't believe in it" (O'Neil 2004, p.13).

Oprah's broadcasting career began at age 17, when she was hired by WVOL radio in Nashville, and two years later signed on with WTVF-TV as a reporter. She also attended Tennessee State University and received her Bachelor Honours Degree in Speech Communications and Performing Arts.

Oprah moved up quickly and in 1978 discovered her talent for hosting talk shows when she became co-host of WJZ-TV's "People are talking". In 1986, she began broadcasting nationally, via "The Oprah Winfrey Show", which became the highest rated talk show in television history.

In 2003, Oprah became the first African-American woman to join the ranks of billionaires, as published by Forbes magazine for that year (O'Neil 2004).

From 2004-2009, she was the only woman to have been included in all six of TIME's 100 Most Influential People in World lists.

Oprah is now the host and owner of The Oprah Winfrey Show, the founder of the Harpo Productions, Inc. which produces her television shows and movies, the owner of "O, The Oprah Magazine" and forthcoming cable channel called "OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network" (New York Times 2010) and a generous philanthropist.

3. Theories on Leadership - Critical Literature Survey

Leadership definition and list of leadership theories

Leadership is defined (Cited by Daft 2008, p.4) as follows:

"Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes and outcomes that reflect their shared purposes."

The evolution of leadership theories started from "Great Man" and "Trait" theories, which assumed that leaders are born, to the present "Transformational" leadership, in that leaders can be trained.

Trait Theory

Arose from "Great Man" theory which assumed that people are born with inherited traits. The traits and skills which are identified by Stogdill (1974) as vital to leaders can be found in Appendix 1.

Situational or Contingency Theory

Leadership style adopted is contingent upon situational factors such as the characteristics of the followers, the work environment and followers' tasks, and the external environment (Daft 2008).

John Adair, a renowned leadership theorist, devised Action-Centred Leadership model in a three overlapping and inter-dependent circle diagram, which focuses simply on the actions the leader need to take in three areas of needs: Task, Team and Individual, as the situation varies, as below:

Figure 3.1 Source: Adapted from "Effective Leadership" by John Adair, Pan (1998)

Charismatic Leadership

Charismatic Leadership is based on leader's personal characteristics as a source of power to emotionally impact people by appealing to both the heart and mind (Daft 2008). These leaders create an atmosphere of change, articulate an idealized vision of the future, inspire and motivate followers with an abiding faith.

Team Leadership

Daft (2008) believes that team leadership is based on three principles: Firstly, team leaders must create a vivid vision that is challenging and inspiring so that it provides a strong sense of purpose and direction. Secondly, team leaders must be willing to admit their ignorance or mistakes and the third principle is to provide support and coaching to team members.

Transformational Theory

Transformational leadership is characterized by the ability to bring about significant change in followers and the organization, by having a powerful vision, developing followers into leaders, elevating the concerns of followers from lower-level physical needs to higher-level psychological needs and generating a motivating spirit that keeps followers doing more than originally expected (Daft 2008).

Avolio, Bass and Jung (Cited by Bass, 2006) have identified the four components of transformational leadership as: Idealized Influence, Inspirational Motivation, Intellectual Stimulation and Individualised Consideration.

John P. Kotter (1995), in his written article on "Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail", discussed the 8 essential steps to transform organization successfully as listed in Appendix 2.

3.7 X (Female) & Y (Male) of Leadership

Liz Cook and Brian Rothwell (2000) convincingly describe the differences (structural, operational and chemical) in the brain of male and female, which attribute to their different thinking and act even when faced with similar leadership situations. Their interpretation (Cook & Rothwell, 2000) is that the natural and genetic gifts that the average female and male brain brings to leadership are as follows:



Relationship orientation




Appreciation of paradox

Interpersonal connections

Social awareness

Group working


Appreciation of distinction

Action orientation





Target orientation

Status quo challenge

Desire to be the best


Structure and form

Table 3.1 Average Female and Male genetic gifts

Much of the debate in the 1990s spent time persuading leaders that it was good to be female and it was men who needed to change their leadership style to feminine-oriented leadership, with the emphasis on building relationship. Nevertheless, Cook & Rothwell (2000) believed that leadership training should embrace the strengths of both approaches as the strengths of both sexes are needed to counteract the weaknesses that each sex brings to the leadership equation.

4. Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey Leadership Qualities

4.1 Gates Leadership Qualities

Drive and Passion are shown when Microsoft first started as Gates passionately loves and enjoys software programming (Academy of Achievement 2010).

Visionary as Gate possesses great foresight on the future technological trend. He was able to visualize the significance of his software's contribution to his early mission statement "A computer on every desk and in every home" (Academy of Achievement 2010).

Perseverance is one of his entrepreneurial spirits where he has to work long hours, meet several obstacles and failures but at the same time must persevere and possess the "never say die" attitude to succeed.

Self-confidence in himself and his capability by dropping out of Harvard and focus on software development business at Microsoft.

Aggressive and Competitive is definitely one of Gate's traits. The fact that Microsoft dominated almost the whole market and becomes monopoly in providing operating systems for PC clearly proves it. Furthermore, he always has to look over his shoulder on where the competition was so as to remain number one position in this fierce and competitive business environment (Davidson 2009).

Innovative & Creative as he recognised threat and improved MS-DOS to Windows operating systems, created Microsoft Office, which drives WordPerfect/Lotus 123/Symphony out of business, and innovated numerous software to meet the changing demands and needs of the business.

Charismatic as it is believed that his followers admire him, share his vision and keen to emulate him by contributing towards software development to help mankind.

Oprah Leadership Qualities

Owing to her excellent public speaking skills, Oprah pursued her Passion in media, as TV host, actress and producer. She definitely possesses the following traits which are vital to her success:

Fluent in speaking as Oprah is certainly an excellent communicator as vividly shown in her TV talk show and also as seen by her track record of turning unknown authors into top of the bestseller lists when she launched her "Oprah Book's Club" in her talk show (Academy of Achievement 2009).

Perseverance as she is very determined, refused to give up, wanted to change her life and always strives to excel in whatever she does (Academy of Achievement 2009).

Self-confidence can be seen from the way she presented herself in talk show and throughout her career.

Innovative in media industry as she not only brings herself to fame from being TV host of her own talk show but also able to create her own Harpo Productions, own 'O' Magazine, book club and upcoming OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), which will start its debut in 2011.

Charismatic as her influential speech not only emotionally impacts her followers but also the large TV audiences.

Honesty & Integrity as she feels that the most important characteristics for having a fulfilling life is the ability to be seek truth and be true to yourself (Academy of Achievement 2009).

Instinctive as based on David LaGesse (US News & World Report, 2005), Oprah has "built her career on instinct" and she also admitted during her interview, "Women that I've known who run their businesses do it a lot more from the heart, gut, instinct, which are all the same."

5. Comparison of Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey Leadership Qualities and with Leadership Theories/Models

5.1 Comparison of Gates and Oprah Leadership Qualities

Below table summarises their key similarities and differences:

Gates Leadership Qualities

Oprah Leadership Qualities




Desire to be the best





Action orientation




Target Orientation

Status quo challenge


Learned behaviour

Relationship orientation




Interpersonal Connection

Social awareness


Instinctive behaviour

Table 5.1 Similarities and Differences in Gates and Oprah leadership qualities

Both Gates and Winfrey possess the necessary traits and skills which are important to leadership and to their success.

As described earlier, there are similarities but also differences in their qualities. The major differences coincidentally seem to account from their masculine and feminine differences (as compared between Table 3.1 and Table 5.1).

Gates' leadership style, as described by Andrew Davidson (2009), is "confrontational, direct and abrasive" and he is renowned for his demanding approach whereas Oprah's style is less confrontational but instead more collaborative and concerned with relationship building as she built her career on the "counsel of friends, including poet Maya Angelou, musician Quincy Jones, and actors Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier" (LaGesse, 2005).

Gates' action, target-oriented and competitive style contrast with Oprah's relationship, inter-personal connection and dialogue style. Davidson (2009) believed Microsoft's software dominant position is mainly due to Gates' aggressiveness and competitive nature whereas New York Times media columnist, David Carr (2009) reported Oprah's non-competitive nature as she never thought of herself as a businesswoman, she also did not over-merchandise nor take her company public and choosing to go out as a talk show host while her program was still on top. The decisions she made are usually based on gut intuition (followed her heart) and most important of all, she listened to her audience (Carr 2009), whereas Gates focused more on the tasks and actions to continuously advance and improve software technology (Microsoft News Centre, 2010).

5.2 Comparison of Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey Leadership Qualities with leadership theories

Gates (Adair's Action-Centred Leadership Model)

It is strongly believed that Gates follows Adair's Action-Centred Leadership Model in Microsoft where he focuses on achieving tasks (developing software to meet customers' needs/deadlines), building a strong team (employing talented followers) and developing his employees (eg. appointed Steve Ballmer as current CEO and transitioned Ray Ozzie as current Chief Software Architect).

5.2.2 Gates (Transformational Leadership)

Gates also fulfils the Transformational Leadership requirements which were described by Daft (2008), Bass (2006) and Kotter (1995), by bringing about significant change in followers and Microsoft.

Gates had great foresight on the future technology trend and was the drivers of technology innovation. He was able to develop strategies and communicate the vision effectively to his followers so that all employees can contribute to the knowledge base of the enterprise.

According to Joel Kurtzman (2004), the success of Microsoft has been built on the company's ability to attract the brightest and the best people in its industry. Gates' involvement in the recruitment process extends beyond the selection of his closest aides. In 1981, Gates was instrumental in hiring Charles Simonyi - the "father of Microsoft Word", from Xerox PARC (Kurtzman, 2004). He not only hired talented people but also helped developing, motivating and empowering employees who can implement the vision (Steve Ballmer, his former subordinate and now Microsoft CEO, is a very good example).

Gates strongly believes in harnessing the intellect of every employee and said, "Smart people everywhere in the company should have the power to drive an initiative." (Cited by Krames 2003, p.153). Hence, he adopts a culture that encourages the entire workforce not only to think, but also to share their thoughts with co-workers and managers up and down the company hierarchy (Krames 2003).

Microsoft employees respect and trust Gates and are energized by the psychic rewards they get from working on intellectually stimulating and challenging technological innovation and they feel proud to be in such an organization.

Hence, they are able to work together to transform themselves and Microsoft into such a dominant and powerful software company today.

Oprah (Charismatic Leadership)

Oprah, on the other hand, is more of a charismatic leader. O'Neil (2004) summed up her two key aspects of her approach to life and business as "committed to high quality" and "listened to her instincts".

Staying positive, displaying great self-confidence and perseverance and excellent communication skills have also helped her climbed to the top and well liked by the public.

According to analysts, Oprah was not in the 'business of business', she was in the 'business of soothing souls' (Businessweek 2002). The kind of intimacy Oprah enjoyed with her audiences was something that reportedly no other talk show host had ever achieved.

Oprah is certainly very charismatic as she managed to emotionally influence and touch many people's hearts and mind through her personal characteristics and in what she has done and not done (Carr 2009). Academy of Achievement (2005) mentioned that her empathy, honesty and love of people have made her one of the most beloved women in America.

5.2.4 Oprah (Team Leadership)

Oprah adopts Team Leadership style. Her vision is simple but vivid, as when she set up a foundation, she just wants to help unprivileged people get back on their feet and as when she founded Harpo Productions, she wants to produce her own television shows and movies, not so much about herself but more on to make a difference in people's lives and to influence them to change for the better. She said, "I want to be able to do work that encourages, enlightens, uplifts and entertains people." (Academy of Achievement 2009).

Per O'Neil (2004), Oprah understands her strengths and weaknesses and when she hires people, she looks for people who can do what she cannot. She feels that she can learn something from the people who are smarter than her.

Oprah is also not afraid to admit her ignorance and mistakes. She admits right upfront that she is uninformed and wants to learn about the topic (O'Neil 2004). She trusts her team and empowers people to make decisions and when decision is wrong, she accepts full responsibility as evident from the way she admitted her mistakes when her Academy's employee was accused of indecent assault of six teenagers in the school (New York Times 2009).

It is believed that she will provide support and coaching to team members whenever she can, as she cares and has great empathy and love for the people, including her employees.

6. Author's opinions about Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey Leadership Styles

Gates and Oprah are both highly successful leader despite differences in their backgrounds, gender and working environment. Certain traits and skills are important in order to succeed in their respective industry.

Gate's aggressiveness, visionary and transformational leadership styles are essential if Microsoft wants to maintain its dominant and number one position in providing software in the world. Even though Gates had transferred these responsibilities to Steve Ballmer, the leadership legacy still remains intact and strong.

It is believed that Gates' leadership style changes as Microsoft grows from a small to a multinational company. Initially, Gates tends to be more task-oriented and Davidson (2009) claimed that he reviewed every piece of code the company produced. It is felt that Gates gradually realised that he would require to trust and empower his employees to do this job. He definitely attended several leadership courses or read such leadership books and being a fast-learner and always looking for improvement, he understood the importance of striking a balance between task and people-oriented behaviour and hence would adjust his style accordingly. He wanted to get things done but at the same time he never stopped in inspiring and motivating his talented employees towards their shared vision, by inculcating the culture and values within Microsoft.

Being an entrepreneur, Gates certainly experienced several failures but it was believed that he learnt from his mistakes and adapted himself quickly. Similarly, he endlessly adapted their business strategies and practices to a changing world as Microsoft transformed and moved towards globalization and diversity.

Oprah triumphs as a media leader as her intuitive, empathetic and influential style build trust and gain respect from millions. Even though she does not consider herself as a business woman, she is very successful in every business she owns (own Oprah website, own Harpo Productions, Oprah Book Club and O Magazine) as she consistently touches the hearts of people.

She has created values not only in her business but also made significant social impact on people outside her organization. Her desire to help and make a difference in people's lives are vividly seen on TV (Oprah Winfrey Show) as well as her philanthropic foundations (Angel Network, Oprah Leadership Academy for Girls).

She seems to be a transformational leader as her boundary is not within her own business but more on influencing other people's lives through media. Assumption is that she has not studied or followed exactly the Transformational Theory stipulated by Bass or Kotter as US News (2005) mentioned that she once took pride in never having been taken a business course or read a business book. However, her vision which focused on enriching people's lives is so strong and inspiring that people (her employees and also her followers/admirers) are raised to higher levels of motivation. Oprah has entertained, enlightened and uplifted millions of people around the world and it is believed that most of her followers, if not all, have greatly benefited in their personal and working lives via the numerous programs and activities organized by her organization. She therefore deserved to gain the respect and admiration as a true leader.

7. Conclusion

Based on extensive reading and research on leadership books, the author's conclude that effective leadership really boils down to how each leader first understand himself and then his followers, his organization and all external factors (inclusive of awareness of diversity, cultural differences and fast changing environment) prior to adapting the appropriate leadership styles and behaviours to suit these situations. In other words, there's no one fixed style as his or her leadership style should vary as per today's rapid changing and diversified business world.

It is found that Gates is a transformational business leader and Oprah is more a charismatic but is also a transformational leader in her own right.

8. References

Academy of Achievement (2010) Bill Gates Interview. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 31 May 2010).

Academy of Achievement (2009) Oprah Winfrey Interview. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 31 May 2010).

Bass, B.M. & Riggio, R.E. (2006) Transformational leadership. 2nd edn. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associate Inc.

Businessweek (2002) Oprah Winfrey [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 31 May 2010).

Cook, L & Rothwell, Brian. (2000) The X & Y of leadership: how men and women make a difference at work. London: The Industrial Society.

Daft, R.L. (2008) The leadership experience. 4th edn. USA: Thomson South-Western.

Davidson, A. (2009) 1000 CEOs. UK: Dorling Kindersley Publishers Limited.

Kotter, J.P. (1995) Leading change: why transformation efforts fail. USA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Krames, J.A. (2003) What the best CEOs know: 7 exceptional leaders and their lessons for transforming any business. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.

Microsoft News Center (2010) Bill Gates biography. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 11 May 2010).

O'Neil, W. (2004) Business leaders & success: 55 top business leaders & how they achieved greatness. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.

Stogdill, R.M. (1974) Handbook of leadership: a survey of the literature. New York: Free Press.

The New York Times, Carr D. (2009) A Triumph of avoiding the traps. [Online]. Available at: ""&HYPERLINK ""scp=4HYPERLINK ""&HYPERLINK ""sq=oprahHYPERLINK ""&HYPERLINK ""st=cse (Accessed: 27 May 2010).

The New York Times (2009) Winfrey defends South African school. [Online].

Available at: (Accessed: 31 May 2010).

The New York Times (2010) Oprah Winfrey. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 27 May 2010).

U.S. News & World Report (2005) Heeding her own voice. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 26 May 2010).

9. Appendices

Appendix 1

Stogdill (1974) identified the following traits and skills as vital to leaders:



Adaptable to situations

Alert to social environment

Ambitious and achievement-oriented









Tolerant of stress

Willing to assume responsibility

Clever (intelligent)

Conceptually skilled


Diplomatic and tactful

Fluent in speaking

Knowledgeable about group task



Socially skilled

Source: Leadership Traits and Skills (Stogdill, 1974)