Montreal – MGX 1996

Following up on my last blog I guess it is time to return to the fun of summer and the Microsoft Global Sales Summit.  This is still during the good old days when they were still lots of fun.  The 1996 sales summit was in Montreal, Canada. I will say I really liked Montreal and the whole French-Quebec feel.  The event was tied up into two tracks – there was the first 5 days which were the technical tracks and then the second 5 days which were sales.  If you did the tech track you stayed for the sales track.

Prior to going to Montreal I had interviewed for another sales position in Telesales, which was as a Channel Sales rep.  I interviewed with a person who would be an eventual VP, the late Paul Bazely.  At the time he owned the whole telesales operations.  By this time Director of HQ Sales had become a good stepping stone for people looking to move up in the organization.  Because of my technical background and one of the hiring managers history in my current role at the time, I was well positioned to get this job and early in my journey to Montreal I received the offer.  I will be the first to say and my wife will verify I am terrible at interviewing, so this success was great.  I should also add that in April of 1996 I had married my girlfriend of two years Jean.  So going to Montreal I was kind of excited. I was to attend the tech track the first five days.  I would really come to enjoy the tech track at MGX as  it was a great way to get educated and get a sneak peek of what was coming down the technology pipeline at Microsoft.

The tech track was more business like than the sales track.  You went to the conference center each morning and looked at the schedule and whatever interested you went to attend.  I attended a session on setting up NT as a DNS Server (all done from the command line).  We had sessions on SQL Server 6.0, SNA Server, Exchange Server and lots of compete sessions.  My roommate was Roland San Nichols, (another to file away in the where is he now category).  The days were sessions and  box lunches.  The evening’s were parties and bars.  The last night of the tech session was geek fest.  Microsoft rented out a bar  and provided drinks, food and entertainment.  The entertainment was two girls performing acrobatics on a rope.  Very erotic scene in a sea of geeks.  Nobody seemed to mind.

After the geek fest the sales people showed up and the executives.  When the sales folks showed up the scene changed dramatically.  We got hot food instead of box lunches. The opening night was the welcome reception in a square that Microsoft had rented in the middle of Montreal.  The theme was as best I could tell “Cirque De Soleil”  with lots of artists on stilts, acrobats, magicians, clowns, ..etc..Also lots of food and booze.  All my friends who were on the sales side from my building showed up and every field rep from every corner for the globe was there.  Once sales showed up the event become a little more upscale, a bit more raucous, and in general a whole lot more fun.  How everyone showed up for 8:30 am sessions is beyond me.

The opening executive keynote was Steve Ballmer.  How events started in those days was much different then more recent events.  The first set was some of the troop from “Stomp” the musical.  They were out on stage doing a big set with big sticks when half way into, bursting onto the stage wielding a big stick (and a big body) was Steve Ballmer.  He looked like he was having a blast yelling and screaming and pounding his big stick.  Once he stopped he went to the podium and started to address the crowd in French.  It lasted two lines and then he quit.  I think part of the reason is Microsoft had just purchased a Montreal based graphics company called Soft Image.  I speak very little French and though Steve may be Harvard educated I don’t think his French was very good. It was good he switched back to English.  I don’t remember much of what Steve had to say and that is probably because all Steve had to say in those days is Microsoft had another great year.  Next up was Jeff Raikes, head of World Wide Sales, in what would become his standard MGX dance routine, done to the tune “Gansgters Paradise”, but renamed “Windows Paradise”.   This entertainment brought together the theme for 1996 – “Kill Netscape”.

I guess it was great that Netscape had received all this attention from Microsoft and they never really stood a chance once they were in Microsoft’s eyesight.  The Montreal MGX put them in everyone at Microsoft’s target list of competitors to go after and the best part was they were number one.  At this time Microsoft was still very able to rally the troops to a cause.  Microsoft was still nimble and the global sales summit was a great setting to get people excited.  Microsoft was still a very focused company at the time, something that would aid it time and time again.

During the evenings it was just a matter of finding where the  party was happening.  Sometimes your own group would sponsor an event or a product group would.  Always drinks and food.  Usually a very nice setting.  Since we were in Canada you could go out and buy Cuban Cigars, something that everyone seemed to do.   I was not too interested as I did not smoke (I have not touched tobacco since I was in Denmark in November of 1992).  I did get a day where Roland and I toured a little of Montreal.  We went out to the Olympic grounds.  Too bad that Montreal had the Olympics in 1976, if you remember the seventies, it was time of concrete structures, unlike today’s modern marvels like the Bird’s nest in Beijing.  It was rather run down. 

As we entered the last day of MGX it was time to get ready for the big all night party before we took off.  The party was a black tie affair and they had a company come and fit us for tuxedo’s.  We went to a designated hotel and got fitted for the tux and then picked them up the day of the event.  Before that all happened we had one final presentation which was the key-note by Billg.  With each passing year  the entrance seemed bigger and grander.  A bunch of lights on stage flashing, smoke all over and then in the back of the stage with a little backlighting a figure would emerge.  Hands always up around his chest and folded.  I always got the impression that no one was more surprised by all the fanfare then Bill himself.  Bill’s speeches were usually about two things.  What the current technology landscape looked like and how he felt Microsoft was positioned.  The second was where he saw the future headed and how Microsoft fit into that future.  I always felt this type of presentation was Bill at his best.  I frankly hated it when he talked about products and had Product Managers come up and do demo’s.  I found it boring and more suited to a VP or GM.

Well the party finally happened.  There were three different rooms for sit down dinners.  Europe, Asia, and North & South America.  Earlier in the week for entertainment we had Donna Summer (she had some audio malfunctions).  However following the dinner we had some group I had never heard of.  They were a rock orchestra.  They had three singers and tackled the classics from Led Zeppelin, The Who and Queen.  When they did Queens “Bohemian Rhapsody” they brough the house down.  Those Europeans love their Queen.  The rest of the evening was a series of dance halls, loud music and drinks.  I heard the next morning that Bill was playing on the escalator.  Those were the days. 

I had a great time in Montreal.  I really liked the event, the city the people, and Microsoft was on a big roll.  I flew home with only thinking of my wife and “Jem le Quebec”.

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