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Christina Binkley

Author

Wall Street Journal Magazine

April 29, 2021
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Ep 16: Christina Binkley - Author, Wall Street Journal Magazine
00:00 / 01:04

Bret Kugelmass
All right. So, we are here today with Christina Binkley, who is an author, a former Pulitzer Prize winner, and has worked at the Wall Street Journal for many years. Christina, thank you for joining me.

Christina Binkley
I'm pleased to be here.

Bret Kugelmass
Absolutely. So, you know, first, before we get into some of the topics that we'd like to talk about, which is energy, we just like to learn a little bit more about you and how you got into journalism.

Christina Binkley
That's always an accident. I was in a Ph. D. Program at the University of Pennsylvania studying economics, and realized that would be a terrible mistake was not a good choice for my life. And I was friends with a fellow student there who was married to an editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer. And I started hanging around with journalists, and realizing I wanted to do that. So, I headed off to the Columbia School of Journalism and this is sort of just taking me on a ride I didn't anticipate.

Bret Kugelmass
And when you study journalism, how do you know what to write about? I mean, can you write about anything, anything from politics to technology? Is the world your oyster? Do you focus in on a certain area?

Christina Binkley
I focus on a lot of areas. When I'm speaking to student journalists, now, for instance, I try to make sure that they understand that they should go and follow their passions. You don't want to write about things that you don't understood or that you're not interested in, right? Most journalists are interested in a lot of things and in my case, I've sort of stumbled along and you know, ended up writing about things that I now thought were fascinating. But if you had told me years earlier, I spent 10 years as the Wall Street Journal's fashion columnist, for instance. And anybody who's ever known me would say, That's crazy. But it's a fascinating industry and I still write about it and it's not crazy. So, I think the thing is, you want to be like a terrier and dig in and enjoy yourself.

Bret Kugelmass
Tell us about that case, the fashion case you What about it stood out to you? I guess when I think of fashion, as a as an engineer, I think, Oh, that's just so silly. What about it drew you to it for so long?

Christina Binkley
Well, initially, it wasn't my idea. I had written a story that involved driving a new Ferrari and I didn't know anything about Ferraris and the piece ended up being fun for people who also didn't understand Ferraris. It wasn't a car geek thing, because I wouldn't be capable of doing that, but it was really about what it feels like to drive that. Some editor, who really changed my life, phoned me up and said if you can write about Ferraris, I want you to write about fashion. I knew about designer names at the time, I could name Ralph Lauren. So, my first New York Fashion Week and my first Paris Fashion Week, were sort of me just sort of stumbling around trying to figure out how to get in and out of fashion shows and how that system works. But the truth is that the fashion industry is full of extraordinary people and some of them are Karl Lagerfeld and Eddie Slimane, really big names and big personalities, and some of them are just delightful people who, you know, pattern makers are like architects, but they're building buildings that have to move with our bodies, right? So, it's very specific, as an engineer, you would probably appreciate what pattern makers do. Nobody thinks about these people who like to measure things when they're wearing clothing, but those people are incredibly important, and we wouldn't be dressed without them. So, when you dig in, and start going to factories, factories in Italy are a joy to go to. The factory owners are as passionate about their cotton or their dye mixes as we think of people being passionate about, you know, Italian food, so there are always aspects of an industry that are fascinating and wonderful. I also spent almost 10 years covering the casino industry. And you know, those people are a whole other breed of interesting personalities.

Bret Kugelmass
I see how quickly you turned that around on me on the fashion. I mentioned engineering and within five seconds, you mentioned material science, manufacturing, geometry. Okay. Okay, Point taken.

Christina Binkley
That's it. That's it. That's it.

Bret Kugelmass
No, please, please, please.

Christina Binkley
No, I was gonna say people have odd biases about fashion. And I came to the industry with those biases myself, right. But when you dig into it, it's a business like any other.

Bret Kugelmass
And so how long do you decide to spend on a specific industry? So, 10 years on the fashion industry? How many on casinos? And when do you know that it's time to move on?

Christina Binkley
Specifically, with the casino beat, for instance, I left and wrote a book about the casino industry called "Winner Takes All". When I came back from that, I had found that I was speaking with executives in the industry and I knew as much as they did, after 10 years of covering that in business, not always, but sometimes. And I just thought I'm not learning anymore, like I shouldn't know this much about it. I want to move on to something where I'm learning about it and that sort of spark when you're learning things and you're interested in the subject is fun. So, then I moved on, that's when I drove the Ferrari and ended up the fashion columnist.

Bret Kugelmass
I've seen some journalists, you know, I spent 10 years out in Silicon Valley and I saw some tech journalists go from journalist to investor to venture capitalist almost. When you gain so much like inside knowledge into a certain industry. I mean, you were probably valuable as a consultant to the casino industry or consultant to the fashion industry, or maybe even had ideas on where to take your own efforts. Have you ever played around with that after you develop such rich expertise?

Christina Binkley
No, it would be ethically wrong for me to work as a consultant unless I completely left journalism, right? So I wouldn't do that. I guess I have a financially unhealthy interest in always working for as low paying an industry as I possibly could. I mean, I could have gone off other places and made more money. But it didn't sound as fun. And I'm really driven by the way I want to spend my time, rather than how big my bank account is. You see journalists that will take careers as reporters or editors, and then some of them move into public relations. Some of them move into finance, there are hedge fund executives right now that are former financial reporters and good on them. There's nothing wrong with doing that. It's just not a direction that interested me, I actually before I was aa journalist, I worked for several years as a financial analyst for grad school, so I kind of have always known that I didn't want to do that.

Bret Kugelmass
And what is the difference between reporting on a topic for a newspaper and writing a book? How do you think about your investigation process differently? Does one feed into the other? How are they structured differently?

Christina Binkley
It's an entirely different thing. And there's a process of, newspaper articles tend to be rather short. And so you write up in a day, or it's or sometimes in a week or several weeks, it's a big investigative thing, but they're not as long and involved. And you don't have to structure a tale in quite the same way to pull people through. Magazine pieces, though, if you're writing something that's three, four or 5000 words long, you're starting to approach the process that you need to have when you're writing a book. Pretty much everybody who writes something long form goes through a period where you start out and it's euphoric and you love this idea and you throw yourself into it, and you start reporting it. And then you get, at some point, usually about the time when you're supposed to start writing, you hate the idea, it's boring and nobody's ever gonna want to read about it. What were you thinking about when you started this whole thing, and you have to sort of pull yourself through those periods. So that's the first sort of emotional part of writing these things, right? But then there's also how do you structure this? I've always tended to look at it like, I've got a book, I need 10 or 12 chapters and try to tear it down that way on little sticky notes, so that I know what I need to accomplish. And then I can move those around. I have a structure in my brain and in sticky notes, that will completely change as I go through the process of writing it but at least it gets a path forward, it's a map to follow, and you learn as you're writing, even when you're largely done with your research process, you keep realizing there's holes in your knowledge and more things, you have to go dig out. It really is sort of like following a path until you have a finished product. And then you go back and edit the previous product and change it again. Right. So it's a long process.

Bret Kugelmass
And do you feel, as time goes by, that you've got the process down already? And now it's just a matter of the new subject material? Or is your process changing as well as you jump into different topics?

Christina Binkley
Every project is different. A couple years ago, I wrote a piece about the artist, Sterling Ruby, it was a New Yorker article. When did I start that... it was probably eight or nine months that I spent just observing Ruby as he was going through his process, with his art and design. Then, at the end of that, I had to write it fast. So, I have this long, slow research process going on for months and months and months. And then I'm sitting there, I don't remember, a week or two, I had to write a 7000 word article. It's sort of a scramble, a mad rush at the ends to pull that all together. That's kind of one thing. And then sometimes, I'll do an interview one day and write the piece the next and file it. So that's a whole different thought process. You know, it's more adrenaline. Deadline writing is an adrenaline experience,

Bret Kugelmass
And do you enjoy it? Do you get a satisfaction out of that adrenaline kick?

Christina Binkley
Yeah, absolutely. There's nothing like chasing a story, too, and when you have breaking news and things that are sort of happening quickly. I don't do this as much these days, but when I was a beat reporter and I had competition from the New York Times and various other newspapers and news outlets, it gets kind of gritty sometimes. Reporters can be very competitive and have sharp elbows. That's the same sort of fear and elation that you have in sports, in a game, when it's the championship game and either your side is gonna win or lose. Right down to the agony of - what did they used to say, it was that sports program as a kid - the agony of defeat? Oh, I can't remember. There was an NBC sports program when I was a kid. And they always have this thing on television on Saturdays that talked about that sort of agony and defeat and other-anyway, nevermind.

Bret Kugelmass
One of the things that you mentioned that I want to come back to, when you're writing the book, and you go through these emotional ups and downs, and there's times that it's difficult, how do you push yourself through that? That's what I'm curious about. Do you have tricks? Or is it just pure willpower and grit?

Christina Binkley
Well, both. But for me - I was running through this with some student journalists couple of weeks ago, as a matter of fact - I start out and I make a list, usually on the side of a manila folder that I'm going to keep files in for, you know, interview notes and things like that. And I make a list of every sort of person or agency that I might reach out to to start my reporting, and then I just start reaching out. I mean, that's all you can really do is start out dumb. One of the things you wanted to talk about was the Bill Gates piece. That was an assignment that came in from WSJ magazine. They're like, we'd like you to profile Bill Gates. Well, I don't know, Bill Gates, I've never covered the tech industry, I certainly don't know anything about nuclear power, energy, all of these things that this was going to entail. Of course I'm like, Yes, I'd love to interview Bill Gates and profile him. And then it's like, oh my god, how do I even prepare myself for this? Right? So, there was a lot of research before I actually sat down with him.

Bret Kugelmass
And why did they choose you? Why did Wall Street Journal magazine want you to write this piece as opposed to a techie there?

Christina Binkley
Well, it wasn't a tech piece, for one thing. I think they probably wouldn't have wanted to go to a tech writer for a piece that was really about something else that he's doing. That's very different, right? I mean, you'd have to ask them. I'm very pleased that they come to me with great people to profile. And their vast differences. Another piece that I wrote for the same magazine last year was profiling Kim Kardashian. How do you profile Kim Kardashian and Bill Gates? They're very different people in different industries. And yet, the truth is that when you're profiling people, as a journalist, you're trying to get them to open up to you and share something. I'm just speaking to human beings, it's not that important what their agency is or what their industry is, because I'm trying to draw them out as people and make them to be more alive and more personable to readers who don't have the opportunity to sit down with them.

Bret Kugelmass
Sounds like you're being modest. Given the high profile nature of these people, I'm assuming that WSJ magazine just wanted their absolute best on the task.

Christina Binkley
Well, thank you. That's very kind. They have other great writers, they should reach out to. They're a really good team. I think one of the things that's really wonderful about journalism is that you really work in teams. People think being a reporter and writer, in some ways, is very lonely. If you're working in broadcast and whatnot, you're often going out more in teams, less today than it used to be, but it's not really true. No writer is out there alone. There's edits, often, numerous editors behind you, helping lead you and also helping edit you at the end so that every piece that I write looks like I'm better than I am, because there have been good editors shaping it. I hope. You want to always work with good editing teams. So, that's a really important thing to think about as a writer, when you're when sort of thinking about where you're going to write, I don't advise that people should spray it all around and just grab any opportunity they can. You want to find the right opportunity and the right team, and I have that with WSJ Magazine. I have that with other publications too, that I feel like we're all rowing in the same direction.

Bret Kugelmass
So let's dive a little bit deeper into the Bill Gates piece. Can you walk me through it? So, they asked you to write this and you don't know much about this space. Did you call a bunch of friends just to get some basic, Where should I begin advice? Or how do you begin?

Christina Binkley
Well, in this case, Bill Gates- one of the things I learned along the way in this piece, I didn't know this going into it, but he is surrounded by really intelligent people. I mean that's one of the things that sort of comes through when you interview different people. If you're an executive, you hire people who work with you well, and I think Gates does that exceedingly well. So, I was able to start reaching out with people, in this case, this is his interest in energy innovation. And he has a team of people in Seattle who are working with him, who are experts in various ways. Some of them are policy experts. Some of them are communications experts, some of them are really scientists, some of them are good at running startup businesses. I was able to sit down with some, several of them I sat down with three, four times, really long, and detailed, making them a little crazy, I think. I wanted to flesh out anecdotes. So, I'd be going step by step by step through a meeting they had in London once, for instance, trying to understand whether this meeting was important, how it was crucial to what came later. So by the time I actually sat down with Bill, I had spent hours with various members of his team and I had a pretty good sense of how he functioned and I was sort of able to walk, ,so my questions were very pointed at that point, because I had sort of educated myself. You don't always have somebody with a huge team that generous with their time.

Bret Kugelmass
And were the answers what you expected? And you just needed to get it from him? Or was all of that prep, does it still not prepare you for what the final answer out of his mouth is when you ask a question?

Christina Binkley
He's a lovely person to talk with, quite frankly. He didn't come into the interviews, from what I could tell, with a punch list of what he wanted to accomplish. He was genuinely sitting there listening to my questions, he would think about them, look off for a second and then come back and answer. But I did find - and this is always the case, when you're profiling somebody, and you're sort of probing and trying to find out who they are. I don't want to go into that with my setlist either. Because I want that interview to sort of take me where it should go. And I may not know that going into it. In the case of Gates, I found that he sometimes- he's so thoughtful. And he talks as he's thinking, so his answers can be very circular. And he may take you on a long ride, and you have no idea where you're gonna end up and you have to wait till he's done, or you will never get there, you will never get the answer. It's not a quick process to sit down with him, because you can ask a simple question and he'll take you through three different countries, four new technologies that you've never heard of, and then come up with a very simple answer. My guess is that's his process, that's his thought process when he's working, too.

Bret Kugelmass
So all of the winding in his answers you're saying is, essentially, he's building a foundation. He's kind of like putting the bricks in. This is a piece you'll need to know, that's a piece you'll need to know. And then when you finally get to the answer, you now have all the kind of the supporting evidence that led to that conclusion. Is that what you're saying?

Christina Binkley
Well, that may be the way it is in his mind. I was not always sure. I would go back through the transcripts and would read some of those answers several times and still could not quite understand what all those pieces were. I guess what I'm saying is he's not always the most articulate. And I think he would agree with that. At one point we were talking, he referred to Steve Jobs, and I had just been watching this amazing famous interview with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs that was an AllThingsD, you know?

Bret Kugelmass
Kara Swisher's conference.

Christina Binkley
Exactly it was, and Kara Swisher was there interviewing the two of them. And she asked a question - I don't even remember what it was, it was a question she pointed to Bill. And he starts one of these circular, walking through everything and Steve Jobs was super impatient, he couldn't sit still. And he interrupted Gates and says, Let me answer this. And then in about three sentences, sizes the whole thing up in this sort of emotional way and the audience is going, Yeah! Like that. And Gates is sort of shrinking. Because of what happened. I just sort of sized up the two of them for me watching that interview. But Bill mentioned that a couple of times, that he is not always the best salesman for what he wants to do. And he mentioned, he said, you know, Steve Jobs could really get people riled up. The odd thing about writing about Bill Gates is that it made me aware of, he actually does rile people up in really strange ways. They have extremely strong feelings about him. And some of them quite negative. I mean, there are people who think that he wants to inject their bodies with tracking devices.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, that's a bad one.

Christina Binkley
It gets pretty odd.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, that is pretty odd. I mean, I guess that's just because when you're in the spotlight as the richest person in the world for so many years, I guess you enter popular culture in a way that some people feel, they just get some people make you a target. Even if he had like charisma, different charisma, it probably still would have ended up as a target, or do you think differently?

Christina Binkley
I don't know. I mean, there's lots of very, very famous people. Nobody thinks that Larry Ellison wants to inject their body with tracking devices. Some of the things that Gates, many of the things that Gates has been doing for the last 10 years are just philanthropy. It's just he's literally giving money away, to try to make the world a better place. Right? I mean, not very many people are sort of going out to solve malaria. But there are people who work really hard to see evil in that somehow. And I don't know, I haven't come to any strong conclusions about what it is about him that triggers people in that way. And not for instance, many famous movie actors.

Bret Kugelmass
Did you get a chance to really pull apart his philanthropy? And how comfortable would you have been asking - and maybe you did ask this behind the scenes, I don't know - so he gives away a lot of money, but he also still makes a lot of money, his wealth still increases. Do you get to ask him, why not give away at a faster rate, or at a higher percentage of your overall? Even though you're giving me more than everybody else? We get that? But why not give away a higher percentage? Do you get to ask him stuff like that?

Christina Binkley
I asked him a lot. I didn't ask him that, I didn't think about it that way in terms of percentage, but I did ask him, we talked quite a bit about being a billionaire. For instance, he's pouring money into really iffy technologies. He owns a nuclear energy company. They're out there getting ready to build their first test reactor. And that could all be lost. He could lose a couple of billion dollars, or he could make many billions of dollars. If that thing pays off, the payout is extraordinary. That's not philanthropy. That's an investment. Most of these energy things that he's working in, by the way, are investments, it's not philanthropy. And, you know, I asked him about that, is that right? Should you get that much richer? You're already rich. He was interesting, it was one of those things where he gave a very thoughtful answer, which was basically, you know, there's lots of things you can complain about billionaires, if they're not paying their taxes, they're not pulling their public weight. You can complain about billionaires for that, if they're doing social wrongs. But why would you complain about a billionaire making a lot of money on an innovation that could solve global warming? Well, I don't have an argument with that.

Bret Kugelmass
Makes sense, that's logically consistent.

Christina Binkley
I think the question becomes more, it's more of an issue sometimes when you're talking about his public health initiatives. He's not making money off of the vaccines. But companies are. And some of those companies have had a lot of public funding that he's helped arrange, in addition to the philanthropic funding, and there are legitimate questions about whether the public should be financing companies, future profits that are corporate profits, not public profits. On the other hand, how do you ever get these public goods? We wouldn't have most vaccines, we wouldn't have public transportation systems, we wouldn't have a lot of things that we have if we if taxpayers didn't step up at first to get it started.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, in my experience, like it's not so black and white, I know that some people like to think about it that way, oh, the government should just do this, or the private sector should just do that. The world is very complex. There are so many incentives at play. And incentives can drive very positive outcomes. And sometimes it's hard to know, all of the nuances. So, it's hard. It's a gray area.

Bret Kugelmass
if we can come back a little bit to Bill Gates, his nuclear work. Energy and climate and nuclear are huge interests of our organization. One thing that I wasn't really sure - especially after reading his book - his book came out where he is very pro-nuclear. And as an energy-based research organization, so are we after learning about its advantages. One thing, though, that I still didn't understand is, he's always put a billion or two into this one technology, but we know that there's like 50 nuclear reactor startups out there. We know there's tons of technologies that all have different ways that they think they're going to solve the problem. Who knows who's right? Given how pressing the climate issue is, and how pro nuclear he is, how come he hasn't invested in 10 nuclear companies, you know, $100 million dollars each to hedge his risk almost.

Christina Binkley
I didn't ask him that. But I think I can answer it. For one thing, I don't know, he may have funded a bunch of others too and we don't know about it. But, particularly in the case of nuclear, it is so expensive. He would love to have somebody else join him in this, but he hasn't found somebody that's willing to step in, at that point. So, he was a little cagey as a matter of fact, talking about the next step up. It took me a lot of reporting to realize that he has agreed to sort of fund this going forward if another investor doesn't step in. And I think he's talked a lot with, not just with nuclear, but with a lot of these innovations that he's pressing forward, is there has to be somebody who's willing to potentially lose big, because it's so expensive to get these things up. Our phones are full of apps, because it's easy and inexpensive to create an app. The bar to cross that is low. And so, we have tons of apps. There are quite a number of nuclear power initiatives, but not thousands of them. Talking about, we need to create green cement, for instance, zero carbon cement. That's really difficult to do. You need somebody who's got an endless supply of money, because there's no philanthropy that is going to be able to fund that. And certainly taxpayer dollars can help and policy can redirect funding and interest in those ways. But you really do need the Bill Gates of the world. It's not just him. He's got a coalition of investors that are backing some of these - not the nuclear one - but some of the other initiatives he's collected in, and they're investing, they believe in Bill Gates.

Bret Kugelmass
And how come he has trouble putting together coalitions then for the nuclear side of things? You'd think his reputation, him willing to come out so publicly about his support for the technology? I know the technology has some public perception issues, but you think that just him coming out so publicly would clear the path for some of the others?

Christina Binkley
Sorry, I laughed because you say that some public perception issues, it's huge. I don't know the answer to that. I have actually thought that's an avenue that I might like to report on more. As I was speaking with his co-investors in his funds - we were talking about other technologies, and I didn't even talk to them about the nuclear at the time - that was a ride for me as a matter of fact. When I was, I guess, elementary school, or maybe middle school is when Three Mile Island happened. And I lived with my parents in northern Delaware, not too far from Three Mile Island. I was a kid, I wasn't really paying much attention, but I distinctly remember them evacuating the tri-state area. And people were just clogging the freeways trying to get away. And it was sort of like, where do you go, Kansas? It was a crazy sort of decision, it was sort of packing the house and it stuck with me forever, that there was this sort of evil nuclear thing that was potentially very scary, and it didn't happen, but it could have been awful. And so you know, that, I realized when I was looking into the nuclear stuff for this piece, I hadn't really thought about it for years other than in my mind, nuclear was a really scary technology. Now we've had Fukushima, we've had other terrible nuclear disasters that did play out. And so I found myself really intrigued is I just had to open my mind and say, oh, there's new ways to approach this that aren't as scary as the antiquated methods that created Three Mile Island and Fukushima and whatnot. And I would imagine that I am a drop in the ocean of people who just have a knee jerk reaction, you hear the word nuclear and it sounds evil. We talked about microwaves. And we say you nuke something, it's not a good connotation. Right? It's energy of all sorts. Right?

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. And I'm so glad that you brought up that example. I mean, in our research, when we looked into the industry, and we found that exact thing, it's the evacuations - which are unnecessary, by the way - that cause the fear. And in some cases, they cause real damage, like in the case of Fukushima, and this is where you had three real meltdowns, three accidents. They looked back later at the spread of radiation and realized nobody would have gotten hurt. But the evacuations caused over 1000 deaths, just by trying to unplug people from hospital equipment. And then that's not even including all the suicides and the stress related incidents. It's almost like the evacuation is worse than a nuclear meltdown. And somehow we can't get ourselves out of this mindset, which really seems to hurt the industry.

Christina Binkley
They had in Russia, people were burned. I mean, they needed to evacuate.

Bret Kugelmass
Well, right. Of course, in the Chernobyl style, yes. And I think that's also a distinction that we fail to make, is the Chernobyl style plant was fundamentally a different technology than the 400 water based reactors that we have operating around the world today. Yeah. No I know, it's a tricky, complicated issue.

Christina Binkley
Yeah, it is. And I think, coming back to Bill Gates and speaking with him, I ended up sort of being interested in why it didn't scare him. And again, you know, like I've said, I'm interested in bringing the person out. I'm not writing about the technology, I'm writing about the person. And so what intrigued me in terms of Bill Gates was this is a guy who wasn't scared of computers and the need for software at one point when he was very young. He wasn't frightened to think really big. When he was in high school, he ended up programming the sort of classes for the entire school one year. And he just sort of started exploring how you would do that, and then ended up creating essentially a software, an early software program that solved the problem for the school of how you assign everybody to their classes. And I think the process for him is the same, there's this promising technology that can make a whole lot of energy with zero carbon. Now how do you do it in a way that makes more sense than it's done in the past? And he just starts, it's one foot in front of the other, he starts taking these little pieces, and well, one of the things is that they make the plants too big because they're so expensive. It doesn't pay out in terms of profits if you don't have these giant regional nuclear reactors, and he's somebody who says, well, let's try to make some small ones, oh, okay. And I think it's as simple as that. He also digs into things. I mean, he's quite a nuclear expert at this point. But he didn't start out that way. He starts asking questions, and then really digs deep.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, that's pretty amazing. And so, were there any other surprises? Actually, real quick question, how long do you get to spend with him?

Christina Binkley
Oh, for that piece?

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah.

Christina Binkley
Let's see, he is a very heavily scheduled person. So, the first time we sat down, I think it was about an hour, I think it was an hour. Yeah, it might have been like 55 minutes, because they sort of set these times and he's scheduled, they have schedulers who just bustle him from one place to another. And so, when the time comes up, there's this person coming in and going, Oh, my god, he has to be somewhere in three minutes, and we have to go. And then it wasn't enough time, so I asked for more. I did more reporting and then a month or two later, we sat down again. That was supposed to be a quickie, just follow up questions. I think they gave me like 35 minutes and as some kind of miracle, he just refused to stop talking and so we were together for another hour or so, because he got really into it. His sort of communication person who's stepping in going, But, he has to go, we have to stop. And then he would just keep talking. For - I don't remember how long - that 4500 word or so profile to spend only two hours with this subject is not that much time. I've written profiles of people where I spent, you know, many dozens of hours with them. But fortunately, I had enough people around him, either part of his organization, I also did a lot of reporting, that just, I went out on my own and found people and spoke with them. Some of them are voices in the story, and some are not, but they all informed me.

Bret Kugelmass
Actually, back to a previous thing that we're talking about. When you said that, you learned that at a young age even, he wasn't very afraid to just kind of do things that were different or that other people didn't think of, did you get the sense that that is genetic? Or that is part of his upbringing? Or where does that come from?

Christina Binkley
Probably is genetic. I mean, this is one of the interesting things that I didn't know about him that I learned. He had two very extroverted parents. He's not an extrovert, this is an introverted man. They were also very sort of civically involved. And that meant sitting on councils and panels and things like that, it involved a lot of entertaining. And I learned that they, particularly his mother, just said, you have to learn to do this, Bill, I know you'd rather be in your bedroom, researching something, but, you're coming out here and you're going to learn how to do these things. And I think that's sort of how you end up with an individual who can nerd out on a subject like nobody can nerd out. I mean, he can really dig deep, and he loves that. But also pull himself out of that and learn to manage people and manage world leaders, manage software engineers, manage financial people. When you create a company like Microsoft, you have to be a good manager. And a lot of times the people who are really good at nerding out on things are really bad at management. He also talked about his own growth as a manager and being really bad at it when he was young. Some of the stories that I heard from him and from other people around him who worked with him for decades were almost funny, but I think that he was a pretty good jerk as an as a young manager in terms of, like, looking in the parking lot and memorizing the license plates so he knew if people were sneaking out and not working 120 hour weeks. But he's figured it out. He had this in the story - I thought it was hilarious - he had a management theory at one point, when he was young in his 20s, that nobody should have to work for somebody who wasn't smarter than they were. He defined smart as IQ. So nobody should have to work for somebody who didn't have a higher IQ than they did. Can you imagine trying to make an organization function like that? And he's since learned that there are different types of intelligence. So now he knows that somebody with the highest IQ might not be the best manager. So he's worked that out, but it must have been painful as those first years.

Bret Kugelmass
Was there anything that got cut from the piece that you'd want to include? And then, or if that's not the case, if you had an extra couple hours with him, are there any areas that you'd like to explore further?

Christina Binkley
Well, there's always so much cut out, when you work for several months on a piece, there's so much. I often feel like, Oh, I should write a book, I feel ridiculous trying to get this into a few 1000 words. But that's just the nature of the game. Yes, I think honestly, if I were to sort of create a dream dinner party and invite a few fascinating people, Bill Gates would absolutely be on my list. It's a joy to speak with him, because he's interested in everything. The man could have been a journalist, I don't know what topic there would be that he would address and in a very open way. I wanted Melinda Gates to speak with me for this piece, and absolutely she was nothing to do with it. This was Bill's thing, and she would not talk to me. So instead, I asked him about her. And that's when he told me that he cries more than she does. And sort of interesting personal details that sort of flesh them both out. I hadn't thought that he would be in a particularly emotional person, but apparently he is. He just doesn't articulate it well, for the public, right. So I would probably - I'm not answering your question - I would talk with him a lot more about the nuclear plant, because it's obviously sort of a massive part of his interest. And I'm also personally fascinated by it, so I'd like to know, I'd like to understand more what's going on in that field. I may talk to you about that.

Bret Kugelmass
We'd be happy to have many conversations on that topic.

Christina Binkley
Well, it really does have extraordinary potential. And you know, that that little sort of reputation issue that it has is also a big hurdle. How do you get all these test reactors approved if the public is terrified of them?

Bret Kugelmass
That's an amazing area to explore. I mean, we've been looking into that as well, we've identified a dozen countries where the public perception isn't an issue. Even just the United Kingdom, they've got a rich nuclear history, the people love it, it's good jobs, you know, it doesn't have the same stigma attached to it. So our organization is trying to explore, how do we maybe even encourage Terrapower and Bill Gates to start working in the UK, where it might be lower hanging fruit for them to get up and running and then bring it back here. That's a whole other topic of discussion. As we wrap up here today, maybe you could just end on what you're interested in next beyond this? What do you want to write about for your next piece?

Christina Binkley
Oh, gosh, well, I'm can't get too specific, because I can't do that. But I am currently really interested in, well, two things. Energy, innovation and power is a big topic. And I do intend to write more about that. I'm also currently, very speedily, as we all are, very interested in how the world looks emerging from this pandemic. And I think that one of the things that has happened this year that none of us could have predicted, but it's very clear. Somebody said to me recently, it's like we went to sleep in 2020, and woke up in 2030.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, it's true.

Christina Binkley
We have had such a shock, that people and organizations are much more open to change and newness and they're willing to reject things that they thought we did, just because that's how it's done, right? And try these new things. And so if you look at, you know, economy at large, or world at large, you just know, when we look back 10 years from now, we're gonna see this big jump in use of technology, trying new ways of using technology, whatever it is, it can be as simple as how we dress ourselves too, how we lead our lives, where we work, where we choose to live. We're probably going to see more people living in rural areas or more rural areas now instead of clogging into cities because they've discovered, Oh, we can work from home we don't have to be all mashed together into the same office building. So, I just want to write about that because we don't know. We know there are huge changes coming, we just don't know what they are exactly. And so, there's probably hundreds of stories to be written in that area.

Bret Kugelmass
Awesome. Well, we look forward to reading them. Christina Binkley, thank you so much for joining us today, sharing your story with us. And here's to more conversations in the future.

Christina Binkley
It was a pleasure.

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