Microsoft’s Bert and Ernie
Bill Gates’ retirement from Microsoft Corp was an opportunity for him and Chief Executive Steve Ballmer to espouse on their decades-long partnership. Here are some excerpts from their Town Hall meeting with Microsoft employees on Friday.
On how they met:
Gates : Steve and I were both at Harvard and I was in this dorm up at Radcliffe where the kind of anti-social math types hung out … I was energetic and had ideas. There was a guy who would hang out with me who also knew Steve and he kept saying “There is this other guy who is super energetic like you and he’s a neat guy.” So … we went out to the movies together. I think we saw right away that, even though we are different in some ways, we had a lot in common and from that day forward, we brainstormed about our dreams, what we wanted to do and that was fantastic.
Ballmer: So we went out to see this movie. It was a double bill. ‘Singing in the Rain,’ which is my favorite movie ever. I’ve seen it now 30 times … We come back from the movie and we’re dancing, playing Gene Kelly and some guy wrestles me to the ground. Bill is trying to beat him away. It was really a weird kind of place.
On how Ballmer joined Microsoft:
Ballmer: Bill and Paul (Allen) interviewed me. Bill’s Mom and Dad took me out to dinner. They had met me once before. That was the big rush back then, dinner with Bill’s Mom and Dad. And then at the end of my job interview, and I think this is unique, Bill says “OK, I’m leaving town. Here’s my car, take care of yourself.” So I took him to the airport and he left on vacation in the middle of my job interview. So I guess I got the job anyway.”
Gates: I knew I wanted Steve. I knew I needed Steve, because every contract seemed like such a miracle … Picking which to do, how to price it and how to hire people. I had hired my friends, which was a small set and that wasn’t going to get us there. I was shy about it. I thought Microsoft was very important, but Steve clearly had so much opportunity that I was shy about saying to him, “Hey, come here.”
Gates: I went on that vacation, I was on a boat … and so it was over the radio phone … that we negotiated, not his share ownership, we’d come up with a formula that came up with something like 7 or 8 percent. We were negotiating his salary, whether it would be $36,000 or …
Ballmer: $40,000 or $50,000. That was the negotiation
Gates: So, over this radio phone, my friends on the boat, they’re all drinking and saying “Give him whatever he wants.”
Ballmer: “Don’t worry, he was tough. We split the difference. I came to Microsoft because of Bill. I didn’t know much about programming or I didn’t know much about personal computers. I knew Bill had a cool company. I knew he was a great guy and that he was brilliant and something good could happen.
On how Ballmer wanted to quit a month into the job:
Ballmer: I said “Jeez, I just dropped out of business school to come to a 30-person company as the bookkeeper.” My parents didn’t got to college. My dad didn’t finish high school and the fact that I dropped out wasn’t considered very good by my family. So I went out to dinner again with Bill and his dad … So this is what Bill said to keep me: “You don’t get it. You don’t get it. You don’t get it. We’re going to put a computer on every desk and in every home. It’s not worth it to go back to business school.” It was the vision that Bill, maybe it had been repeated before that, but it sticks in my mind as the thing he said that got me to stay.
On the office car park:
Gates: In the early days, we worked unbelievably hard. In fact, it was kind of a fun thing that I knew everyone’s car in the parking lot and there was always a thing that you would try to take the first parking place, because that meant you were the first to come in. If, when you left, there was a still a car to the left of you, that meant someone had done something called ‘lapped you.’ That is they had come in before you and they left after you. That was a humiliation that someone was lapping you. In fact, we told a guy at IBM, Mel Hallerman, who was part of the original PC project and we told him about this. He was a hard-working guy so he started doing it at IBM and doing it very well. He was in early and left late.
Ballmer: No life. The guy had no life.
Gates: About nine months later, we’re down at IBM. Steve and I go out to dinner with Mel and Mel’s saying ‘there is some guy who’s been working harder than I am. I come in really early, I leave really late. The guy is here before me and leaving after me every day. I’m going to find out who this guy is.’ So after we have dinner, we go back to this IBM parking lot and Mel points out the car of this guy. Steve looks at it and says “Wait a minute, that’s the rental car that a few months ago I took and forgot to take back.”