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.”
“It is?”
“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.

8 comments:

HRH said...

Hmmm...should we be taking advice from you and Brenda?

I was NOT going to read blogs this evening, but I just couldn't help myself when I saw your title. Obviously this all ended this way for a reason....crap. I hate it when people say things like that. I am sorry you are not rich. That sucks for you. And if you were like really really rich and invited me on your yacht...that sucks for me.

cce said...

Where's Brenda now? Does she own a small island in the Grenadines patrolled by rabid Doberman's and men carrying guns because, if I were Brenda, I'd be pretty paranoid about all those people I told not to join Microsoft hunting me down and divvying up my riches.

Man, hindsight's twenty-twenty and regret really sucks.

exskindiver said...

hi ron,
if you did not listen to brenda,
you would never have time for us little people.
your loss is our gain, really.
(i think)

Suzanne said...

I'm with everyone else, whatever happened to Brenda? Did she eventually go to work for google?

I own some MS stock right now, but unfortunetly, my acquisition of their stock was waaaaaay after the IPO.

ThomasLB said...

I thought Paris Hilton already had dibs on ameliorating the world's woes.

Lifehiker said...

Brenda probably went to work for Wang Computer, then, when it failed, went to Data General, then, when it failed, became a commercial banker, then, after being laid off, went to GM and worked on the GMC Denali which is now being advertised as a great boat anchor. Quite a career!

Ron Davison said...

I cannot believe that you all are being so hard on Brenda. Believe it or not, I still know her and like her. For clarification, Brenda had quit shortly before she gave me the great advice.

Holly,
Yacht. Hmm. I'm not sure what I'd do with money. Maybe buy my own blog.

cce,
You're just making fun of me now. And oddly enough, I'm not bitter. Here's the thing: if everyone knew what Microsoft would have been worth, it would have been worth that back when it started and no one would have missed out because there would have been no out to have missed. (What did I just say?) The only reason MSFT is a great story is because so many of us walked away.

Chesca,
I would have made time for you little people. From 2 to 3 the first Thurday of every month, just to stay in touch.

suzanne,
I do not know where else Brenda worked after MSFT. I do know that she raised two kids. I'm not sure if she ever told them how rich they could have been.

Thomas,
Paris has dibs on everything. The supreme court will decide in the fall whether any of her claims hold up.

LH,
Sounds like you've just described a great new TV show that would be some cross between Mr. Magoo and The Office: 1,001 ways to avoid fame and fortune.

Jennifer H said...

Well, you do have the hybrid decal thing to fall back on. ;-)