Nebraskans may see more of native son Jeff Raikes as he steps down as CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but his home base will remain in Seattle.
And his goals will be broader than his home state: improving agriculture, encouraging effective philanthropy, promoting sound education and, especially, finding ways to enhance the experiences of early adolescents as they move toward becoming adults.
After announcing his retirement, Raikes, 55, said in a World-Herald interview Tuesday that he and his wife, Patricia, will expand the family foundation they founded in 2004.
“My oldest daughter had a very challenging experience in middle school in the sense of the social dynamic, what some people would call bullying,” Raikes said. “That got us interested in what are the issues of early adolescence and that transition.”
For example, research shows that children ages 10 to 14 who learn that their brains are like muscles that can grow stronger with effort are more likely to perform better in the classroom and develop healthy, productive identities, Raikes said.
He will remain chief executive officer at the Seattle-based Gates Foundation until a successor is found.
After a career at Microsoft that netted him a reported $450 million-plus fortune, Raikes in 2008 became CEO of the foundation formed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda.
They had discussed a five-year commitment, Raikes said Tuesday, and now he can move to a new phase. “I feel great about where we're at and the progress we've made.”
In a statement, Bill Gates said Raikes “has successfully managed the organization through a period of significant growth, built a phenomenal leadership team, and set us on a great path programmatically.”
Melinda Gates said Raikes “always stressed the importance of partnership and continuous learning, which has been invaluable to improving the work we do.”
Warren Buffett, a trustee of the foundation, said Raikes “encouraged bold thinking and risk-taking and encouraged people to learn not just from what worked, but also what didn't.”
Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. of Omaha, is donating the bulk of his money, currently about $50 billion, to the Gates Foundation and four Buffett family foundations. Bill and Melinda Gates also have pledged most of their money to their foundation.
The Gates Foundation has a staff of about 1,100 and assets of about $37 billion and spends about $3 billion a year. The Raikes Foundation has seven employees and about $120 million in assets and spends about $6 million a year.
“I've never been one to spend a lot of time measuring the leadership on the basis on the size of the employee count,” Raikes said. “I just enjoy working with people on interesting issues, and I get a chance to do that whether it's seven people or 1,200 people.”
He said he and Patricia plan to expand the foundation significantly in coming years.
He said he would consult with University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman on global water problems and other issues.
Milliken said Tuesday that Jeff and Patricia Raikes' work is “truly inspiring. The University of Nebraska is a stronger institution today because of their vision, generosity and leadership.”
Raikes said he plans to go to Lincoln from his home in Seattle this weekend to see the NU-UCLA football game.
A $10 million pledge to the Lincoln campus is his largest financial commitment to Nebraska and one of the largest by his foundation. He also is a major supporter of research at Stanford University, where he is serving a five-year term as a trustee. He also supports other causes in Nebraska, including a drive for a new community center in his hometown, Ashland.
He said he expects to visit his home state more often.
“In the last year we have become empty nesters,” Raikes said. “We have a great house on the edge of our farm, and I love Nebraska and I love farming.”
The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.