Gates/Ballmer – Saying goodbye is hard to do
What was your proudest achievement?
Gates: We changed the mindset that software was this unimportant thing and (how people thought) about computers in a certain way. I think that was our most important thing.
Ballmer: The guy has a lot to feel good about. Just think about the number of things that have happened. There was no software industry. Now, there is a software industry. There was no personal computer. Bill was really there at the birth of the modern personal computer. Bill really designed the IBM PC. That’s my non-revisionist history.
We had to come from behind. In some of these battles, we got to lead from the front. It’s actually more fun to come from behind. For us, that’s more fun. That’s when you really surprise people. It’s actually harder and a lot of the people who work for the company now have never done it, but in some of those cases we had to do it. We went toe to toe with the biggest, most powerful computer company in the world and we beat them. Windows versus OS/2 and we beat them.
What was your biggest screw-up?
Ballmer: That’s all for you.
Gates: We were together on many of these. Our biggest mistake comes when we don’t see where software might go in the future and we’re not working on it early. By the time, something is really popular, it’s maybe three or four years after you’ve done the work needed to get there.
When we got it right, betting on graphics interface, even though we told our competitors that they should (do it) and tried to get them to do it, they didn’t. By the time it was clear that it was a mistake, they were in deep trouble because we had done the work and we were there. In software, you have got to anticipate the turns in the road. We have made many of those turns. They have said, ‘hey this is Microsoft at its peak’ every year for almost 20 years now. The reason we’ve defied that is because we made many of those twists and turns, but there is many that we missed.
The search and advertising thing that the way that thing has grown up to be so important, you’d probably pick that as ‘gee, that’s a big mistake.’ If we had started three years earlier and seen how important it is, it’d be a lot easier than having to do it coming from behind.”
Ballmer: In the old days, I used to have a list with our biggest screw-ups, but I stopped that after the list got too long.
After answering employee questions for an hour or so, Ballmer and Gates held back tears (unsuccessfully) and they said a final goodbye.
Ballmer: There is no way to say thanks to Bill. Bill’s the founder. Bill’s been our leader. You can’t do it. We can thank Bill for the culture. We can each thank Bill personally for the opportunity that we individually had a chance to have here. Every one of us, whether you started last week or started 28 years ago, has had a set of opportunities to realize our own potential. We’ve had a chance to contribute to society, a chance to develop and grow as professionals, a chance to work with the best and the brightest in the world and a chance to prosper personally. We’ve been given an enormous, enormous opportunity and Bill gave us that opportunity. I want to thank Bill for that.”
Gates: My life’s work is really about software and working with incredible people. I love working with smart people. I love working with Steve. I love working with all the incredible people here.
Even the times that were the toughest, in some ways, those are the times that bonds you the most. When IBM decides to attack you or when some legal ruling isn’t quite right, and you have to do a press conference afterwards.
There won’t be a day in my life that I’m not thinking about Microsoft and the great things that it’s doing and wanting to help.