Bill Gates on the difference between Elon Musk and Steve Jobs

Bill Gates Steve Jobs Elon Musk

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has had the opportunity to meet and work alongside major tech giants, including late Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs. In an interview with Bloomberg, Gates was asked whether his contemporary Elon Musk could be considered the “next Steve Jobs,” due to the advancements his companies Tesla and SpaceX have made in electric cars and reusable rockets, respectively.

“If you know people personally, that kind of gross oversimplification seems strange,” Gates told Bloomberg in the interview published Thursday.

There are some key differences between the way Musk and Jobs operate, Gates said.

“Elon’s more of a hands-on engineer. Steve was a genius at design and picking people and marketing,” Gates said. “You wouldn’t walk into a room and confuse them with each other.”

Indeed, Musk often talks about his demanding schedule and his hands on approach. For example, on a Tesla earnings call in November 2017, Musk said he was spending all hours in the Tesla battery production factory, even sleeping on the floor and skipping showers to catch up on Tesla 3 production in 2018.

“I am personally on that line, in that machine, trying to solve problems personally where I can,” Musk said on the call. “We are working seven days a week to do it. And I have personally been here on zone 2 module line at 2:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, helping diagnose robot calibration issues. So I’m doing everything I can.”

As for Jobs, he “was such a wizard at over-motivating people … I could see him casting the spells, and then I would look at people and see them mesmerized,” Gates told podcast host Dax Shepard Aug. 20.

For instance, Apple CEO Tim Cook has described how Jobs helped convince him to join Apple when the two met in 1998. Initially, Cook was hesitant, but “the way that [Jobs] talked, and the way the chemistry was in the room, it was just he and I,” he told Charlie Rose in a 2014 interview. “I looked at the problems Apple had, and I thought you know, I can make a contribution here. And working with him, and this is a privilege of a lifetime.

“And so all of a sudden I thought, I’m doing it. I’m going for it….”

Gates and Jobs had a famously complicated relationship.

Musk and Gates also have their differences.

In August, Gates wrote a blog post about electric vehicles, saying that they will “never be a practical solution” for replacing trucks and long-haul vehicles. Musk responded to Gates’ comments on Twitter Sept. 11, saying that “he has no clue” about electric trucks. (Gates said in the Bloomberg interview that Musk’s electric car “is a huge contribution to the climate change effort,” that Tesla “did it with quality” and that “other car companies, seeing his success, will come [into the market].”)

Gates was also critical of Musk after Musk called California’s pandemic stay-at-home orders “fascist” on Tesla’s earnings call in April. “Elon’s positioning is to maintain a high level of outrageous comments. He’s not much involved in vaccines. He makes a great electric car. And his rockets work well. So, he’s allowed to say these things. I hope that he doesn’t confuse areas he’s not involved in too much,” Gates told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” of the comment in July.

Of course, Gates own reputation has evolved. In the early Microsoft days, Gates was known for setting high standards for the company and being very tough on his team. “I certainly wasn’t a sweetheart when I ran Microsoft,” he said on Shepard’s podcast.

A representative for Musk did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It’s request for comment.

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