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#ForTheWin Melinda French Gates Resigns

Week of 5/13-5/17, 2024

What's The Deal?

This week, Melinda French Gates announced she is resigning as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which she has helped lead since 2000. The announcement was made by the Foundation's CEO, Mark Suzman, who said Melinda made this decision "after considerable reflection, based on how she wants to spend the next chapter of her philanthropy." Melinda has been open about her "painful" divorce from Bill in 2021, and both said they would allow themselves a kind of trial period through 2023 to determine if they could continue working together. Based on our analysis, it's clear the communications strategy was thought out well before Suzman's announcement, which is consistent with the way Bill and Melinda have handled communications about the Foundation and their personal lives.

What They Got Right

Transparency: Messaging effectively about organizational change requires dedication to transparency and clear communication, both of which Suzman got right in his tone and content. 

Empathy: The announcement – a video and accompanying note – showcased Suzman's empathy and care for the impact the resignation would have on his staff. He repeatedly recognized that this was sad news and that he, in fact, also was having a difficult time with it. He said, "Like you, I truly admire Melinda, and I will deeply miss working with her and learning from her."

Commitment to values and impact: Suzman's announcement was positive. It reiterated the Foundation's bigger mission and the difference the employees will continue to make. He also doubled down on the brand's origin story and reinforced that, despite the change, his focus (along with the Executive Leadership Team and independent board members) will be on carrying out the Foundation's work. 

Clarity on future plans: There was a strong focus on the future, namely, Melinda's commitment to direct her philanthropy toward women and families in the U.S. and around the world. She stated a need to alter the gender equity trajectory due to recent rollbacks to women's rights in the U.S. and worldwide.

What's The Watch Out?

While the announcement of Melinda French Gates' resignation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was commendable in many aspects, there are still some potential areas they'll want to watch out for:

Continued transparency: Moving forward, the Foundation must maintain transparency regarding any further developments or changes resulting from Melinda's departure. Open communication with stakeholders will help mitigate any concerns or uncertainties about the Foundation's future direction.

Differentiation: Melinda will need to carve out a voice that is uniquely her own. 

Impact: One of the hallmarks of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was the astounding impact they had on health and education. Both philanthropies will need to demonstrate that they can individually thrive and make a significant impact on the needs they are addressing. 

Overall, while the announcement of Melinda's resignation was handled effectively, ongoing vigilance and strategic communication will be necessary to navigate this transition period successfully.

For these reasons, we recognize Melinda French Gates, Mark Suzman, and their communications teams #ForTheWin.

Disclaimer: Neither Melinda French Gates nor the Gates Foundation are Perceptual Advisors LLC clients.

(Flickr Creative Commons / Marc Smith)
About the Author

Alana leads the firm's operations in the New York Region and is Head of the Brand Strategy practice, where she helps companies find their “why” and pushes the boundaries of creativity through the lens of high brand standards. Trained as a journalist, she spent the first 10 years of her career positioning and launching content-driven brands at News Corp., The Huffington Post, and Turner Broadcasting. Over the last 6 years, Alana has served in several high-impact senior brand positions at health-tech and e-commerce startups (B2B and B2C) through various investment phases.

Today, she’s focused on helping companies align brand strategy with business strategy, embrace the unconventional, and create stories and experiences that influence prospects and engage customers. Whether it’s a new brand launch or a need to connect to a new audience, Alana draws upon her experience in qualitative research, brand architecture and positioning, attribute and brand essence development, messaging architecture, user persona development, and engagement strategy to creatively solve problems and drive commercial success.