On a project in the US in 1996 I met a former employee of Microsoft. That in itself is not such an unusual thing, but to meet one of its first former employees is. A guy who at the infancy of Microsoft, “had it up to here” with Bill Gates and walked out of the Albuquerque, New Mexico office in 1978. Even in 1996, he would likely have been a centi-millionaire if he had stayed with Microsoft. I chided him a bit suggesting that it was one of the more dramatic career bloopers I had ever heard of and he replied “not really, you don’t know Bill”. Very likely I did not. It would be some years later before I met Bill Gates.
I joined Microsoft 5 years later in 2001 just after the .com bust. Microsoft stock was now trading in the low $20’s about one third of it’s dotcom peak. However it had made a lot of Microsoft shareholders and employees very, very rich in the process (for those that cashed in) We called them VIP’s (vested in peace). One of our VIP’s drove a different colour of Mercedes SL500 convertible every day to work just for variety. The parking lot was filled for a little while with a selection of Mercedes, Porsches, Corvettes and Ferrari’s on a given day. Microsoft had come off a stock rampage to be met with accusations of monopolies, a grass-roots ABM (Anything But Microsoft) Open Source movement and some really grumpy investors impatiently looking for that next wild ride up to 300% stock return. Things were not so smooth now.
The Bill Gates I was now working for was a plain spoken , you’ll get what he thinks unfiltered, kind of guy. He told the the DOJ they were telling “outrageous lies”, he told customers he was “going to destroy three companies: Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and Netscape” and everyone knew that Bill had the final say and you did things his way or the highway. My first day at Microsoft I was assigned someone to show me the ropes. The first thing he said to me was“yes you really can email Bill Gates but don’t, you won’t like the response”
Now let me also say, that I don’t think for a moment that Microsoft would have come as far as it did or produced the world-changing software that it did without Bill’s leadership and uncompromising, hard-hitting approach. He had been accused by the media of being volatile, arrogant and many other unflattering terms. It would be very hard to find anyone who would say that again today.
I do follow BillG on twitter now @BillGates (along with 2 million others) for two reasons. It is evident that he really puts some concise thinking into what he has to say and that it will be both globally important and informative. One such tweet recently led me to the following Gates Note Article which prompted this blog post.
Bill wrote a review of Matt Ridely’s book “The Rational Optimist”. His review shocked me. Not because of his scathing caustic remarks of the content but because those remarks were nowhere to be found. The Bill Gates of yore, if he responded at all, would likely have provided a few dismissive remarks and then publically have classified the author as one of the lower life forms. But today, the new and improved Bill Gates…
- “Although I strongly disagree with what Mr. Ridley says in these pages about some of the critical issues facing the world today, his wider narrative is based on two ideas that are very important and powerful.”
- (Politely disagreeing but acknowledging value)
- “Having shown that many past fears were ultimately unjustified, Mr. Ridley finally turns his “rational optimism” to two current problems whose seriousness, in his view, is greatly overblown: development in Africa and climate change. Here, in discussing complex matters where his expertise is not very deep, he gets into trouble.”
- (Criticizing the finding of the author but finding a plausible reason for the errant view without making it deeply personal or offensive to the author)
I read Bill’s article and realized that he had powerfully influenced public opinion of the findings in the book, likely changing many reader’s views to align with his and had achieved it because he has changed and improved his approach with the public.
We as consultants could learn from Bill Gates when he was the powerhouse inside day-to-day operations inside of Microsoft, but I think we can learn even more from him today and will continue to learn as he evolves into a true statesman and ombudsman for the world. Keep watching…