A generic sounding name
Prior to Mr. Larson, Andrew L. Evans, a longtime friend who had previously served a six-month sentence for bank fraud, was Mr. Gates’ financial advisor. (Mr. Gates visited him in prison.) When Mr. Evans’ criminal record was highlighted in a 1993 cover article of the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Gates sought out a new money manager.
The next year he hired Mr. Larson, who was previously a fund manager at Putnam Investments. In 1995, Cascade was incorporated into Washington State. The generic sounding name with no reference to Mr. Gates enabled Mr. Larson to conduct a large investment operation with a low public profile.
From the start, Cascade, whose sole role was to manage the Gates’ money, was deeply connected to the wider Gates universe, including Microsoft. The firm is located in the same Kirkland, Washington office park as Mr. Gates ‘personal office, Gates Ventures, and across from Ms. French Gates’ own group, Pivotal Ventures. Over the years employees have moved between Cascade, the Gates Foundation, Microsoft, the two Gates Ventures, and K&L Gates, the law firm where Mr. Gates’ father was a named partner. In 2005, when Cascade needed a new HR manager, the company hired a Microsoft veteran.
Mr. Larson regularly hired people who had just graduated from college or were in the early stages of their careers. Graduates from Claremont McKenna College, his alma mater, were particularly popular. The college has several scholarships donated by Mr. Larson.
Some people saw working at Cascade as a way to make the world a better place. Since Cascade also oversees the Gates Foundation’s $ 50 billion foundation, their support has meant more spending on things like fighting malaria and funding education. Others said they were impressed with the idea of working for Mr. Gates, who founded Microsoft with Paul Allen in 1975.
During his tenure, Mr. Larson made steady returns for Mr. Gates. He mostly invested in undervalued, old-fashioned stocks and avoided hot-tech companies. When the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, the strategy paid off. Mr. Larson also protected Mr. Gates’ assets from the sharpest declines of the recession in 2008 and 2009.