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Microsoft co-founders Paul Allen, left, and Bill Gates in 1981.
Microsoft co-founders Paul Allen, left, and Bill Gates in 1981.

In the early days of Microsoft, there were few enough cars in the parking lot that co-founder Bill Gates says he was able to memorize license plates to track the comings and goings of his employees.

That task might be a little harder to pull off today at the sprawling Redmond, Wash.-based software giant, but Gates admitted in a new interview that he relaxed the practice as the company grew anyway.

“I worked weekends, I didn’t really believe in vacations,” Gates said on the BBC program “Desert Island Discs.” “I had to be a little careful not to try and apply my standards to how hard [others at the company] worked. I knew everybody’s licence plate so I could look out the parking lot and see, you know, when people come in. Eventually I had to loosen up as the company got to a reasonable size.”

Gates touched on a number of topics during the radio show, which is actually aimed at getting subjects to list which music they would bring with them to a desert island. Some highlights, according to the BBC:

  • At age 12, Gates was a disruptive child and was sent to see a psychologist who got him reading a lot about psychology and Freud. “He convinced me that it was kind of an unfair thing that I would challenge my parents and I really wasn’t proving anything. So by the time I was 14 I got over that, which is good because then they were very supportive as I started to really engage in writing software and learning different computer things.”
  • Fellow Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen helped Gates tweak school scheduling software to ensure Gates was the only boy in classes of girls. “I was the one who benefited by being able to have the nice girls at least sit near me. It wasn’t that I could talk to them or anything — but they were there.”
  • Gates and his wife Melinda are very focused on getting rid of the diseases that kill children under five, and spending their money in the “most impactful way. … I mean, you’re not going to spend it on yourself. And we think only a small portion should go to our kids, so that they can have their own careers and make their own way. And so that leaves most of it for Melinda and I to work on how should it be spent for the most needy in the world.”

When it comes to the music he’s taking to that desert island, Gates listed David Bowie, U2, Ed Sheeran and Willie Nelson, among others. For his book choice, Gates would bring Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature.” And given one luxury item, the world’s richest man — who has previously said he would want an Internet connection — would choose “a whole bunch of DVDs of all the world’s great lectures.”

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