The Raikes family came from England sometime between 1635 and 1735. That would be my fourth great-grandfather, Henry Raikes, Sr. They settled in Virginia. At that time, Virginia, especially Franklin and Patrick County, was known as the moonshine capital of the world. We don’t exactly know why our part of the family left Virginia, but they left somewhere around 1805-1810 and they headed to Arkansas, and then Kentucky, followed by Iowa and Nebraska. Given our moonshining history, maybe they were outrunning the law.
My dad felt that our sense of identity came from knowing who we came from. I was always interested in hearing my dad tell stories. It gave me a deeper sense of appreciation for who our family is and the different paths we’ve chosen. My dad was a professor, my brother an agricultural leader, a moonshiner.
I grew up on our family farm until I graduated from college. I have always felt very strongly that my growing up on a farm and in a small community really shaped the values that served me well into my career. Whether I was at Microsoft or the Gates Foundation, I would tell them farm stories. The values that I learned here shaped me as a leader. Work ethic for instance – my dad taught me how to drive a tractor when I was six years old. From the age of nine, I was working out in the field. Another thing you learn on a farm is a passion for what you do because you’re caring for living things. What you do makes a difference. If you don’t get the irrigation done in the middle of a drought, that corn crop will die.
I absolutely feel a connection to immigrants now and the immigrant experience. This country was made great not just by the traditional natural resources it had but probably the most important natural resource of all – human capability.
As for my mother, her parents were both from Germany. You drive around here and all the neighboring farmers have Eastern European names. Fifteen minutes from here is known as the Bohemian Alps. Toward the sand hills of Nebraska is a town called Swedesburg because of their Swedish population. You go to places like Lexington, there is a large population of Mexicans. They are a critical part of today’s beef industry.
At Microsoft, we wouldn’t have been nearly as talented as we were if we didn’t have talent coming in from all around the world. I am a huge believer that a big part of what has made our country great is embracing the abilities and opportunities of cultures from around the world, particularly those who see this as an opportunity to create their own definition of the so-called American Dream.
I was a student at the Riggs School, part of the first class to graduate. It’s an undergrad program where the students learn about computer science, technology, and leadership topics. It was founded to create young leaders who would be able to deal with tech and business in the modern world. We always had great opportunities to hear guest speakers, in large part because of Jeff’s connections. In particular, I remember when Bill Gates and Warren Buffett came; people who wouldn’t ordinarily come to Nebraska. Part of what attracted me to the program was I had done some startup things and I wanted an applied, hands-on education. I almost didn’t go to school. My mom was sick and my grandmother had Alzheimer’s and my girlfriend was back home so I was going to go to Stanford, where Jeff went. But I was interested enough to take a shot in the dark and come up here to be a part of a program that was sort of reinventing itself every year.