When the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation answered his office phone at 7:30 a.m. in Seattle, he had already been up and at 'em for two hours — farm boys from Nebraska, after all, are notoriously early risers.
Besides, Jeff Raikes said, "I like to get in to work before the email barrage."
Raikes, whose sterling 27-year career at Microsoft was followed by his selection in 2008 to lead the world's largest private foundation, will be back in Nebraska next week for a thorough going-over.
Which is to say that friends, including former astronaut and high school classmate Clayton Anderson and Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne, will humorously roast him April 19 as the Omaha Press Club's latest "Face on the Barroom Floor."
Raikes, 53, whose stage presence dates to speech competition and stage acting at Ashland High School, midway between Omaha and Lincoln, no doubt will answer the barbs with a few biting remarks of his own — all in fun, of course.
The event, open to the public, starts with a 5:30 p.m. reception, followed by a 6:30 p.m. roast and toast and an optional dinner.
As he rose to heights in business and philanthropy and lived elsewhere, Jeff Raikes never really left the Cornhusker State. He flies a Husker flag at home in Washington on football Saturdays, owns a home in Ashland and returns to Nebraska six to eight times a year.
When we spoke one morning last week, Raikes was preparing to address new employees at the Gates Foundation's three-day "Starting Gates" training program.
"One of the first things I talk about," he said, "is the values I learned growing up on a farm in Nebraska."
Those, he said, include work ethic, integrity, passion for what you do, a sense of responsibility and service to community — and using your talent to make a difference in the world.
Raikes is a difference-maker. After graduating from Stanford University, he attended the birth of Silicon Valley and took part in the rise of Microsoft.
He first worked at Apple Computers. When Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates offered Raikes a position in 1981, Apple CEO Steve Jobs called Jeff to predict that their fledgling Microsoft Corp. would surely go out of business.
At Microsoft, Raikes designed the Microsoft Office product that eventually was used around the world.
"If you had told me in 1981 that 750 million people would use Microsoft Office, I would have thought you were pretty crazy," Jeff said last week. "On the other hand, I certainly believed that these were tools that would make a huge difference in the world."
Jeff's first exposure to computers had come at age 12 when his brother, Ron, showed him the mainframe he used while working on his Ph.D. in agricultural economics at the University of California, Davis.
Ron Raikes, 15 years older, was "like a second father to me," said Jeff, who years later bought a personal computer to help Ron run the farm in Ashland.
Many people today, especially on the coasts, have no idea how sophisticated and computerized farming has become.
"Any good farmer is using computer technology in a variety of ways," Jeff said. "Today you have computer technology in combines, monitoring the yield at every point in the field. It's incredible what has happened the past 30 to 40 years."
Ron Raikes became a highly respected state senator and education expert — a rural legislator who helped address an urban problem with creation of the Omaha area's two-county Learning Community.
He died in a 2009 farm accident on the Raikes family's 2,400-acre spread. Among those attending his funeral was Bill Gates.
The Gates Foundation, with $34 billion in assets, has embarked on initiatives to improve U.S. high school education. It also hopes to improve agricultural production in parts of Africa and Asia, and to eradicate polio — all part of the foundation's goal of giving every person a chance to live a healthy, productive life.
The foundation receives an annual $1 billion-plus donation from Warren Buffett of Omaha, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, as well as an endowment from Gates.
Jeff Raikes, meanwhile, doesn't just fly a Nebraska flag. He donated $10 million in 2008 to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which renamed a program the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management.
From his office in Seattle last week, he could see mountains, sea planes landing on a lake and plants growing on a "living roof" of one of the foundation's buildings.
Quipped Raikes: "I'm always threatening to plant them in corn and soybeans."
Contact the writer: