Before Windows 10: Behind-The-Scenes At A Young Microsoft
The thrill and terror of a “Bill G meeting,” the creation of Expedia by a 25 year old, and what happened when everyone got stock… these and other tales of a young Microsoft will appear in this space over the next few weeks to look back at the go-go 1990’s when Microsoft was emerging as a global powerhouse but acted in many ways still like a start-up.
Story #1: Stock Obsessed, But in a Good Way
Whether it’s because they love the mission or because know if the company makes it big, they will too, start-up employees are highly invested in the success of their company. While Microsoft already employed 5,000+ people in 1990, one way it retained that small company feel was making all employees significant stockholders. These “golden handcuffs,” employees’ stock options that vested each year, gave them shares of the company and significantly affected their attitudes and actions.
As part owners, Microsofties were interested in any aspect of the company and the marketplace that affected the stock price. Hence, they usually knew a great deal more about other divisions than was usual for big-company employees. My group assistant knew which were our big money-making divisions, what their latest ads looked like, and could reel off recent changes in Microsoft’s on-line services.
Knowing more about the company translated to better decision-making. A marketer who knew about a strategy shift in another Microsoft division took that into account when she made plans for her own product. An interesting tidbit in the news or from a trade-show might get passed from one group to another, because hey, it could help the stock price.
As part owners, Microsofties who were asked to work on projects for other groups didn’t see it as helping someone else’s fiefdom; they saw it as working for the company and ultimately themselves. They put up with nasty workloads or less-than-optimal jobs longer.
When a star who worked for me was promoted to work in another division, I didn’t lament his loss as much as cheer for his larger possible impact on the company. We were loyal to the company because it let us share in its growing fortune.
In the 1990’s, when Microsoft was young, employees were obsessed with the stock price, and for good reason — an estimated 10,000 of them became “Microsoft millionaires.” As for the company, motivating and retaining that talented workforce helped Microsoft act small while it got big.