Paul Allen and Bill Gates

Paul Allen recently released his book “The Idea Guy”.  I have not read this book, but can already see that it is going to generate a lot of buzz just based on some of the comments about his high school friend and co-founder at Microsoft Bill Gates. Many of them seems very vindictive and paint a poor portrait of Mr. Gates.  I can see the interest on multiple levels.  One being that they are the best of friends and agree on everything.  the second being, unlike Bill Gates, you rarely hear anything come from the mouth of Paul Allen.  Nothing sells lie a break-up.  For him to speak, let alone in this manor, is kind of ground breaking news.  Given that thee two men are local to me and I worked at Microsoft for 18 years allow me to comment and peal back the layers of the onion at a distance.

Paul Allen is quite a bit different from Bill.  First some of the interest will be that he is an introverted character.  You never hear of a speech by Paul or rarely do you see him interviewed.  .  Unlike Bill who was always visible to the public eye  projecting the future of what technology will be and what it will deliver, you never, even in writing, saw much of the mind of Paul Allen on the subject.  His post Microsoft career in technology has been a bit all over the map.  He his the major shareholder in Cable provider Charter Communications, a true dud of a company.  He had a company called Assymetrix, never really did much.  In fact most of the noise he has made has been away from the tech sector.

There was mentioned the issue of his involvement at Microsoft and how much or how little he contributed.  He did coin the  name, Micro-Soft so he will always be able to hang his hat on that .  He and Bill created the BASIC programming language.  But as the article pointed out Bill always had majority control, which seems to hint at Paul’s not standing up to Bill (looking at photos of Bill from this era is kind of comical), when Bill said it should be a 60-40 split, then 64-36 split and he agreed without much of a fight, well it was costly, but he is still worth $15  billion so my tears shall be limited on the subject.  There was the one area of concern, where after he was diagnosed with cancer that he overheard Bill and Steve Balmer discussing that Paul was not pulling hos weight and maybe they should force him out.  Paul confronted them.  The national press seems to stop there, but the Seattle Times did note that both Steve and Bill apologized after the incident.

Even though Paul Allen was 8 years removed from Microsoft when I joined, I always felt that his being forced to leave Microsoft due to his illness was a “blessing” (I say this very carefully and do not mean to minimize or disrespect the trauma brought by cancer to families).  After he recovered from hodgkins disease he explored his passions.  He had the money to do it as well.  Unlike Bill, Paul Allen is not a type “A” personality driven by a singular goal.  That is apparent by all that he has done in the community.  He built the Experience Music Project (EMP) from his love of music an din particular Jimi Hendrix.  He collects art, and having seen his collection at the EMP it is impressive (Manet, Monet, Picasso, etc..),  He owns the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers. Though his technology investments have faired poorly, his Real Estate investments have done very well.  He restored the train station in Seattle.  He has a huge yacht. In short the guy is living.

From what I read there is more focus in the book on his sports clubs and other activities then his days at Microsoft, but the bits about Microsoft make for good press fodder.  A really interesting book would be Paul or Bill writing about the early days.  I have no doubt that it was very passionate and very intense.  It was all the talk in the halls at Microsoft about the intensity of the early days, where screaming matched could erupt in the hallway at anytime.  As Paul said  in the book you could have a screaming match with Bill but as long as you held your ground and could back up your argument that was fine. When you here about companies like Google or Facebook being intense environments you hear a lot of similar stories, they are all just following the path and the format that Microsoft created.  A big contributor to that model of success was a friendship forged at Lakeside High School in the early 70’s between Bill Gates and Paul Allen.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann March 31, 2011

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