Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen dies age 65: What was his contribution to Australia

Ross Greenwood speaks to Australian Institute of Marine Science Chief Executive Dr Paul Hardisty about  the contribution Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft made to Australia 

Introduction: Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen dies age 65: What was his contribution to Australia

Ross Greenwood: I thought you want to start on something else. Somebody certainly need a financial counsellor towards the end of their life, they just needed more life. That is Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft who’s died in Seattle from complications related to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This is just two weeks after he said he was being treated. Paul Allen founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975.

They’ve met as students at a private school in Seattle. He left the company in 1992 after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Bill Gates said in a statement, “I’m heartbroken by the passing of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Paul Allen. He was a true partner and a dear friend. Personal computing would not have existed without him.” That’s interesting to see him say that.

Some of the things you look at with Paul Allen, some of the things he accomplished during his life was just incredible. You know that he went on to become a major investor in brain science, put enormous amounts of money into that. He had an estimated net worth of more than $20 billion. He founded an organization called Vulcan Inc. He’d managed his business and charitable endeavours.

He launched Stratolaunch systems that developed the world’s largest airplane as a rocket launching aircraft, which was incredible if you’ve ever seen that, with almost two aircraft side by side. He was big into anti-poaching, Climate and Energy Research, the oceans of the world. He owns the American NFL, Seattle Seahawks and also the NBA, Portland Trailblazers, and a part owner of the Seattle Sounders, a Major League Soccer team in the US.

Really, unmarried, no children, and really has had big issues, but even had an Australian elements to this as well because one organization that he helped to fund over a period of time is the Australian Institute of Marine Science looking at a couple of things, the health of coral reefs when Australia are very big into this, but even shark populations around the world. It was messy in the big yachts, all this stuff. He had an interest in the health of the marine environment. The Chief Executive of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, I thought we’d catch up with him, is Dr. Paul Hardisty, who’s online right now. Many thanks for your time, Paul.

Interview with: Dr Paul Hadisty, Chief Executive, Australian Institute of Marine Science 

Dr. Paul Hardisty: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Ross Greenwood: Okay, I’m interested in this as to how is it that the Australian Institute of Marine Science gets together with one of the wealthiest people on the planet and ultimately finds through his Vulcan Inc., he starts to fund some of your research projects. How does that come about?

Dr. Paul Hardisty: Well, look, it’s been a long collaboration for longer than four years. Years ago now, we first made contact with them and it’s been through a number of collaborators and partners from around the world. You mentioned a couple of the really interesting projects that Paul Allen Foundation and Vulcan have been able to help us do research on, so it’s been pretty interesting.

Ross Greenwood: Just explain some of those, like the health of coral reefs, just explain why there was an interest there? Why they would come to fund that? Also, what dollars put in and what work is done?

Dr. Paul Hardisty: Yes, look, the Paul Allen Foundation and Vulcan have been long interested, as you mentioned in your introduction, or into coral reefs and we’re one of the countries in the world that’s leading coral reefs science and especially now when there’s a lot of pressure on coral reefs worldwide. You’ve probably heard about it, your listeners have probably heard things in the news about bleaching and the effects of climate change on coral reefs globally. Paul Allen and his foundation have been really, really interested in the seas. You may know reefs are incredibly important to the health of oceans globally.

Ross Greenwood: That’s one thing, but the other one that I was fascinated is shark population. There’s a lot talked about with sharks and clearly, when there’re attacks on human beings, the interest is peaked shall I say, or when there’s drum nets set or whatever it might be, but this was really trying to see whether shark population’s growing, whether they shrinking, what was taking place. That all as well has got to do with the health and the cleanliness of our oceans.

Dr. Paul Hardisty: Absolutely, so the project was called the Global FinPrint Project that Vulcan funded. It was the first ever global effort to really catalogue the health of reef sharks. They’re sharks that are associated with coral reefs so it’s purely tropical waters but incredibly important species in terms of, as you said, keeping the oceans clean and healthy, and under real threat globally. This has been seminal work, global in its impact with strong Australian involvement that’s really set the scenes for global efforts around conserving reef sharks around the world, yes.

Ross Greenwood: It’s interesting because I had a look at the website, the Paul Allen website and the Vulcan website today. Some of the articles there, some of the work that have been done on just shark populations even around Australia, looking at Tiger Sharks, for example, really just interesting work to be done. Imagine, if you had unlimited resources as Paul Allen had and you got to adapt that money to whatever interests you had, it really is quite liberating in some ways if you can sense that you can do some good with that money.

Dr. Paul Hardisty: That’s what it was all about. It wasn’t just the marine environment that he and Vulcan were investing in. He had a broad philanthropic interest, but of course, we’ve been the beneficiaries. I think the important thing to mention is that that’s still continuing, so we’re working right now with them on some really interesting ideas on new science, again focused on reefs globally and the pressures around them, but with some new projects coming along, so hopefully, his legacy will live on in these kinds of projects.

Ross Greenwood: When you think about this, the co-founder of the PC that is now ubiquitous in every office, in every environment around the world, and ultimately, this is the wealth from those PCs that is then going into this type of research that Paul Hardisty is talking about. It really is interesting work and an interesting life. Doctor Paul Hardisty, the Chief Executive of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, I appreciate your time here on the program tonight.

Dr. Paul Hardisty: Thanks very much.

Ross Greenwood: It’s interesting, I just find it fascinating. Here’s some of the other bits and pieces he did. He’s gone out there and say, for example, Jimmy Hendrix was his first concert he ever went and saw and so ultimately, he said that Jimmy Hendrix was the reason he was prompted to start playing guitar. Now, if you go back on old clips on YouTube, just go back and have a look at Paul Allen playing guitar. He seriously could play. He would get up there and play with mates and stuff like that.

Subsequently, he lent money to Hendrix’s family to try and buy back the family’s rights to his image and into his music and then also set up $100 million museum for music and pop culture in Seattle that’s called the Museum of Pop Culture. Just sit there and imagine for a moment that you had unlimited money and just the things you could do with that if you put it to good. One other thing he did, he pledged $100 million to fight the Ebola virus and then pledged $30 million in Seattle, his hometown, to homeless people. That said, just incredible life, 65, probably you would think that he’s being shortchanged in that department alone.


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