Why did they pick me?” said Microsoft’s Bill Gates upon receiving the 1994 Chief Executive of the Year Award. “Is [...]

September 1 1994 by Chief Executive

Why did they pick me?” said Microsoft’s Bill Gates upon receiving the 1994 Chief Executive of the Year Award. “Is it because the selection committee chooses people at their peak, and they figured they’d better get me in here before things fall apart?’” The sally provoked laughter from 325 well-wishers-mostly CEOs and their spouses-who attended Chief Executive magazine’s annual, black-tie dinner, held at New York’s Metropolitan Club in July.

Outgoing Chief Executive of the Year Jack Welch likened Gates’ vision to that of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. “In an industry of meteors that light up the sky, then flame out, Microsoft is the exception,” Welch said. “It is cash-rich, debt-free, forward-looking, and fast.”

In a pre-dinner ceremony, Welch received a bronzed bust crafted by artist Willa Shalit, who has molded the images of former Presidents Reagan and Bush. By custom, the “lifemask” is presented to outgoing honorees.

As this year’s award winner-the ninth since 1986-Gates received an Orrefors crystal figurine etched with his likeness. The CEO was selected by a committee of his peers, headed by General Electric’s Welch, from 10 finalists nominated by CE readers.

The award was presented to Gates by CE Executive Vice President/Publisher Darcy Miller Donaldson, President and Chief Executive Arnold B. Pollard, Editor J.P. Donlon, and Bryan Moss, president of Canadair Challenger, the dinner’s co-sponsor (see photo above, left to right).

During his acceptance speech, Gates struck an easy tone with a series of anecdotes and quips. Turning to Welch, his self-proclaimed role model, Gates joked about bumping into common acquaintances at the Department of Justice-a reference to the fact that both companies are under public scrutiny. In recounting the growth of Microsoft from a startup to a dominant company with a market capitalization of $28 billion, Gates modestly cast himself and Paul Allen, the company’s cofounder, as almost accidental entrepreneurs: “Computers were my hobby,” he said. “We looked at the microprocessor and said: ‘Don’t people realize this chip changes the rules?’ Nobody did, so we had to show them.”

Looking ahead, Gates said opportunities for Microsoft revolve around the Information Highway. “Technology will change the way we watch movies and express our political opinions,” he predicted. “My challenge is to invest in the future and go to the next stage.”