The other key execs in Microsoft’s rise to power

It’s probably easy to look at Microsoft and say it is Billg’s company, but there were a lot of other great figures that had lasting influences on who and what Microsoft is today.  Three I will highlight todat from my early years are Jon Shirley, Frank Gaudette and Joachim Kempin.

Back in 1987 when I was still in college I temped in the mail room at Microsoft.  My first day in the mail room (there were only 4 buildings in Redmond in those days) it was one of the girls last day.  Apparently the mail room supervisor had arranged for her father to come down and talk to us.  Turns out her dad was Jon Shirley.  I did not know who he was but it was obvious he was important.  Jon would retire shortly after I joined but the stories of Jon were legendary.  There were other Presidents in Microsoft’s history.  We had a guy from Boeing, we had Rick Beluzzo from HP,but they would never mesh with Bill and Steve.  However Jon’s role was a bit different.  Having honed his skills for 25 years at Tandy he joined Microsoft in 1983.  He was the guy who really showed Bill and Steve the way to run a company.  I had the chance to talk with people during my career at Microsoft who worked with Jon and he was usually described as “tough as nails”.  Since he left the company no one has had the title of President and been successful.  The current list of Presidents head divisions (Robbie Bach, etc..) they are not Presidents in the classical sense.  My guess is Kevin Turner (current COO) will be given that power as Steve seems to really like him, not so sure the rest of the company does.  But in the history of Microsoft they can all try but no one will have the impact that Jon Shirley did as he put the basic business disciplines in place that enabled Microsoft to succeed.

The next is Frank Gaudette, Microsoft CFO.  He was a character.  A tough Irishman from New York.  He was a boxer in his youth and a paratrooper in the Korean War.  He was the guy who took Microsoft public.  He was proud that he negotiated a nickel out of the opening share price when Microsoft did its IPO.  At the company meetings Frank always put on a show – being shot out of cannons, coming out as a boxer, etc..  It was humorous as he was not a great speaker.  However when we spoke I always felt like I was listening to the Count from Sesame Street.  He would just talk numbers “One billion, that’s a big number, I like that number”.  All in all it was pretty enlightening.  The classic Frank story that has been shared around the halls of Microsoft forever is SteveB went in to talk to Frank and ot got so heated that Steve punched a hole in Franks wall.  Frank followed Steve out into the hall and said “you do that again I will throw you out myself”.  Those were the days.

Finally we have Joachim Kempin.  I can’t say I know a whole lot about this exec as he was always kind of  a mysterious figure, even at Microsoft.  He ran the OEM division and he was the one who locked down the OEM’s into their Microsoft contracts.  Anyone who follows Microsoft in detail knows about Joachim.   Some would say he put the “evil” in empire.  Rumors at Microsoft were tha Bill and Steve just let Joachim be.  They did not interfere in his business.  If you browse the net you will find internal emails from Joachim.  It’s apparent that if you ran Windows or Office, when you went to launch a product you had to go through Joachim for sign off on how you were going to price the product.  In those days the OEM division was outside of sales.  It was its own group and it was responsible for billions.  It was powerful.  From time to time other groups would do their own deals with the OEM’s.  If Joachim’s group found out that business was taken over and folded into the OEM division.  Do whatever deal you want with HP or Dell or Acer, but in the end the OEM division would own.  Arguments with Joachim were a one way street.

Well this has been probably my longest blog post to date.  I hope everyone enjoys the holidays.  There is still so much to cover and so much to discuss. Take care everyone.

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