Orlando MGX 1997 – The last great Sales Conference

The year was closing out and my experience on the incubation team had been a tremendous success.  In fact so much so they had decided to make it into a real group with funding and a new manager.  Greta was not going to take the role so she was passing it on to a new manager, Linda Griffin.  Anyone who ever met Linda did not forget her.  I had actually done an informational with her a few years earlier.  A petite woman, who dressed well, wore lot’s of make up, smoked like a chimney and talked very fast she would end up being one of the best managers I ever had in my career.  Because beneath all that material exterior, she did something unique in management, she cared about her people.  The team would expand as we added in addition to the ISP team a Lotus Notes compete team and Sun Microsystems compete team.  The two teams were targeting the IBM and Sun reseller channels.

Since we were turning into a new year at Microsoft, July, we started off this new team in Orlando at Microsoft’s annual Global Sales Conference.  In my opinion this would be Microsoft at its peak.  Going into this conference we had every reason to be sky-high – the stock was continuing its climb up, we had competitor’s on their death beds – WordPerfect, Borland, Novell, Netscape,  – where ever we went Microsoft was the serpent waiting to strike its next victim.  It seemed like we could do no wrong, as the competition just crumbled at our feet.

The event was at the Disney compound – most of the sessions took place in the Swan Hotel, I was staying at the Boardwalk hotel.  I am not big into vacationing at trendy resorts and have actually never been to Disneyland or Disney World, however having called on Disney as a sales rep throughout my career at Microsoft I can say they run a first-rate resort

The format every morning we would start with exec talks, go to break out rooms and end with some exec talks.  A few were memorable.  In those days Ballmer was still the Sales guy.  He would get up and talk about how well we did  and then announce next years quota (what we were telling Wall Street).  The Global Summit to this days always lands the week we announce our yearly earnings.  After which the sales reps would yell, “it’s too low, more, more..”.  No one ever does that now,  Ballmer also had a GM come help with a demo.  I cannot remember what.  The GM was a guy named Pieter Knook.  As Steve ws talking Pieter drove th demo, until it crashed.  Steve kept talking and Pieter left the stage.  When Steve turned to ask Pieter he saw no one, but just uttered “Pieter..Pieter??”  The rest of the conference had a slogan, “Whatever you do at Microsoft, just don’t Knook it”.   Pieter went on to land some senior exec roles at Microsoft and is now an exec at Vodafone.

Microsoft had earlier in the year released interactive Barney.  A talking Barney doll for kids.  This would lead to a legendary presentation by Microsoft Office Exec Pete Higgins.  Pete was kind of a drab guy to listen to, but on this day with the help of Barney he caught fire.  For those who are not technical  you may not get the humor, but try to follow.   Pete went through the normal here is Office and here is what is coming down the pipe.  We got the standard demo’s.  It was stuff I have seen, it seems like, a million times before and a million times since.  He then ended with our lovable friend Barney.  He did a cute Barney demo where they chatted.  he then showed the Powerpoint of what was to come “Professional Barney”, “Network Barney” and “Cluster Barney”.  As the crowd roared with laughter a chant began “Barney! Barney! Barney!”.  Pete was walking at a fast pace all over the stage with Barney held high over his head, egging everyone on.  Pete would retire not that long after, but it was one hell of a way to be remembered.   Barney, well he joined Microsoft Bob and they are quite happy together. 

One day I had a little extra time so a few of us went down to check out the pool.  As part of ou little gift bag we got some sun glasses.  It was Orlando so it was bright and hot.  All seemed to be well.  As I sat there by the pool I noticed some other Microsoft folks there from one of the foreign subsidiaries.  Some were on the pool and one was looking at me saying something.  He was actually saying it in Danish and funny thing I speak Danish.  So I understood everything, “look at that idiot with the Microsoft sun glasses on sitting over there, he forgot to take the sticker off the glasses”.  At this point it seemed like a worthwhile endeavour to go introduce myself….in Danish.  I did just that to the guy in the pool.  If you could have seen the look on his face, suddenly he looked like a meek, wet rat as a look of shock came over his face.   His name was Hans Gufler and we remain friends to this day.  If someone I didn’t know came up to me and made fun of me everyday and I ended up being friends with that person I would welcome an insult a day.

Well we reached the last day and as usual one more exec speech before the show (Kool and the Gang).  As usual we got an hour break and then went back to the Swan for the Bill Gates keynote.  It was like a rock concert as everyone lined up before the keynote and waited for the doors to open.  The doors swung open and everyone tied to get as close as they could.  We then sat and awaited the highlight of the week.  Similar to a rock concert the lighting darkens and the stage lights start to flash.  In the back of the stage a ring appears with smoke and up pops the shadowed image of Bill, hands folded.  I remember quite distinctly that Bill came out and said “I don’t have any Powerpoint’s today so I am just going to sit here and talk”.  He pulled up a stool and spoke of all that was happening in the industry and where Microsoft was positioned to succeed.  The audience was entranced.  It was similar to a father speaking to his children and telling them all that he knew and helping guide his children to greater success.  It was Bill at his best and the most memorable talk I ever saw him give.

The conference party happened.  We had a dinner before hand.  It was the last time I would see Bill seated with the field reps fo dinner.  For the first time I noticed security around Bill. I don’t remember much from the party except for my new manager Linda hitting some guy with a beer bottle (I said she was entertaining).  The next day I flew home.  My flight was delayed by 5 hours and I had to be re-routed through Dallas.  My experiences with Delta Airlines have never been that good.  I left the conference confident and cocky about Microsoft’s future.  But things would change the following year, slowly Microsoft would begin to lose the innocence that had made it so much fun, but in Jly of 1997 it was still a pretty awesome place to work

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