Having a Microsoft background, when I saw Joachim Kempin’s book “Resolve and Fortitude: Microsoft’s “Secret Power Broker” breaks his silence” become available I was excited to read it. As I wrote in my blog about Joachim Kempin, he was a figure of great controversy at Microsoft. To his credit he also built one of the great organizations in tech history, the Microsoft Original Equipment Manufacturer Division (OEM). He was a key executive called to take the stand during the landmark DOJ trial. Though he left in 20o2, he is surprisingly one of the first, if not the first, exec to try his hand at writing about the significant history of this tech legend company. I recently finished and enjoyed this book. The book can essentially be broken into four parts. The early years in Germany, the building of the OEM business, the DOJ trial, the end of his time with Microsoft and Microsoft’s futures.
The book forgoes the formative years of his life, but then this is not really a biography but an account of his time at a very pivotal company in the technology industry. He does discuss a bit of his experience at two other legendary companies Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and Apple. He worked for Michael Spindler (a disastrous note in Apple history). I think what is interesting about this time is that the personal computing industry was still in such an infantile phase, especially when you left the borders of the United States. Starting in Germany you get a sense of how small the company was. Joachim joined Microsoft when the company was only 400 employees and the heartbeat of the company was and still is, in Redmond, Washington. One interesting pieces from this era, the fact that the foreign office had no email available to them. It was still done via mail and fax. When it happened, talk about a communications revolution. Also interesting was the competitive nature between Microsoft European subsidiaries in particular France led by future EMEA President, Bernard Verges.
The chapter that started with his move to Redmond and the building of the OEM division as it introduces many competitors and figures lost in the archives of history. Who remembers Digital Research Inc? In the early days of OEM DRI was competitor number one top Microsoft DOS. The OEM business was also more globally distributed in those days. The descriptions of the competitive landscape and what the industry looked like in the early days were very interesting and I think will serve as a good historical reference. The idea of personal computing was still so young and business models were being created by the seat of ones pants. The people who Joachim comes in contact with were many who helped shape the industry Ted Waite at Gateway(business really ran aground when he moved from South Dakota to sunny Southern California). The characters, tempers, competition it was a very exciting time. It was also brutally cutthroat.
The DOJ trial section I think was easily the most well written in the book. The description of preparation for the trial and coming into contact with DOJ Prosecutor David Boise was very engaging and I can see in a case like this Microsoft was at a disadvantage. You had a bunch of execs testifying who did not want to be there and a prosecutor who lived to be there. On top of that you are on the stand for two and a half days. That case is long gone and in the end I am not sure it accomplished anything, the market did a good enough job of that. It was an interesting read from the early times, to all the prep work. I found this section of the book interesting and enjoyable both from a legal perspective but also some of the personal notes.
Finally we leave with where is Microsoft today? Throughout the book he talks about his relationship with Steve Ballmer, and Steve’s rise through the ranks at Microsoft. Though I think there is respect between the two I think Joachim outlines throughout the book why Steve is not the right person for the job today. I have spoken with a number of my former colleagues at Microsoft about the company today.I think what Joachim outlines is both the shimmer of optimism of the company and what it could do despite their troubles but also the profound frustration of those of us who have watched this company fall from grace and more importantly its innovative roots.
I enjoyed this book, but if I had an issue it was probably not enough Bill stories. I think it is easy for a person in Joachim’s position to maybe think the meetings he had with Bill were not that interesting, but in the end Bill Gates will be a great figure of historical significance that will be written about like Edison, Rockefeller, Morgan and Jobs. The more details about him for future historians the better. Future historians will consult this book, just because Joachim was a key figure and has interesting insights he shares in the book.. There are a lot of details I left out but then that is why you should read the book. I hope more former execs take time to write about their experiences in the rise of a tech giant as well as what they see as its challenges moving forward.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann March 17, 2013