When he was a kid, Mark Zuckerberg, the 29-year old Facebook founder and CEO, was fascinated by the way Bill Gates went about his day-to-day business.
Zuckerberg, in an onstage interview Wednesday with Techcrunch founder Michael Arrington at a conference in San Francisco, was asked if he thinks Gates will return to Microsoft as CEO after Steve Ballmer leaves.
Zuckerberg dodged the question but did acknowledge that "When I was growing up, Bill Gates was my hero." Later, he described the Microsoft chairman as "one of the greatest visionaries that our industry has ever had," as reported by Slate.
Zuckerberg was impressed with Gates fulfilling his pledge to bring a PC to every office and home. He told Arrington "there are companies that define themselves by making a concrete change in the world. Microsoft did that. I have an incredible amount of respect for them doing that. And he pushed that. ... It was an incredibly inspiring company."
Gates "built and ran one of the most mission-driven companies I can think of," Zuckerberg said at the conference, adding that Microsoft has become "less mission-focused than it used to be," as reported by Slate.
Like Gates, Zuckerberg is also getting into philanthropy and trying to fix intractable global problems. Last month he unveiled Internet.org, a program in partnership with Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera and Qualcomm that aims to bring Internet access to less-privileged countries.
Jeff Middleton, a Microsoft MVP (Most Valued Professional) partner based in Metairie, La., told CRN he sees similarities between Gates and Zuckerberg.
"Zuckerberg's ruthless personality tracks with Gates', and he could do worse than to compare himself to Gates' metamorphosis to humanist philanthropy," Middleton said in an email. "Gates is and has been a legitimate hero not because he had one idea, but because he had a dozen connected ideas over several decades. That's not simple."
Both Microsoft and Facebook have their share of vocal critics who interpret every move they make as part of a grand scheme to exploit users and take over the world. So Gates and Zuckerberg have some common ground there.
There's also a business connection: In 2007, Microsoft paid $240 million for a roughly 1.6 percent stake in Facebook, a deal that also cemented Microsoft's placement as Facebook's exclusive advertising-platform vendor.
Then again, it's tough to compare a $77 billion technology behemoth, with tentacles in enterprises and the consumer market, with a social networking site that is just now figuring out how to make Wall Street happy.
As one Microsoft partner put it, speaking on condition of anonymity: "Zuckerberg is no Gates, and Facebook is no Microsoft. It's a nice service, but it won't ever build an empire or an industry the way that Microsoft did."
PUBLISHED SEPT. 12, 2013