22 June 2008
A Tale of Microsoft In Which Your Blog Author Narrowly Avoids Fortune
I had inside information on Microsoft a couple of years before they went public. Based on this, I chose to not even apply to work for the company.
In my first job out of college, I managed a ComputerLand store in southeastern Washington. I started in 1983 and this was an exciting time for the industry. During my year, the first Macintosh came out and Microsoft had no obvious grip on the personal computer industry.
I was proud of our store. Of the hundreds of ComputerLand stores, only one on Wall Street had posted a bigger month than our own biggest month. But my sales people made more than the CFO for the mother store up north and so they lowered commissions. As you might guess, the salespeople left. I built up the store again (not to the same heights, but up again nonetheless) and again the salespeople began to make more than the CFO who wrote the commission checks and again senior management lowered the commissions. Again I wearily built up the store, assuring my new bride that these 12+ hour days would payoff soon. But the third time that senior management pulled the rug out of from under me by lowering commissions and again prompted an exodus of salespeople, I quit.
I thought that I’d explore an option an earlier manager from my store had exercised: move west to Redmond, WA and work for Microsoft. Before I decided to pursue that, I called Brenda – a friend who had worked for Microsoft.
“Brenda,” I said. “What do you think about me applying to Microsoft?”
“Oh, Ron!” she exclaimed. “Don’t do it. I have never worked for a company that was more out of control. It is so poorly managed.”
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “It’s insane there.”
As it turns out, when Brenda had resigned shortly before this, Bill Gates walked into her office and said, “Brenda, you really should stay. I’m taking the company pubic soon and all the employees will have stock and stock options. It is a really good time to stay.” Brenda did not share this information with me. Not knowing any better, I was just glad that someone in the know had kept me from making a mistake.
This was 1984. In 1986, Microsoft went public at what was (backwards adjusted for splits) less than 10 cents a share; within the last year, it has traded at between $27 and $37 a share, going up about 300X from what it was a couple of years after I turned my nose up at them.
It’s too bad, really. I think that I could have been a really interesting person if I were rich.
This week, Bill Gates leaves Microsoft and will, for the first time since its founding, not have a day to day role in the company. He’s going to focus on ameliorating the world’s woes – poverty and illness. Take it from Brenda and me: nothing good will come of this.