The first extracts from Paul Allen's tell-all autobiography may prove less than pleasant reading for Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.
Allen, who co-founded Microsoft (or Micro-Soft as it was then) with school friend Gates, has harsh words for his former business partners, accusing Gates and Ballmer of trying to force Allen out of the company. Allen's memoir, Idea Man, will be released next month.
In an early excerpt published in Vanity Fair Allen says that when he and Gates first came up with the company he had envisaged it as a 50/50 split between the two. This was then downgraded and by the time the final contract was signed in 1977 the split was 64/36.
"I think Bill knew that I would balk at a two-to-one split, and that 64 per cent was as far as he could go. He might have argued that the numbers reflected our contributions, but they also exposed the differences between the son of a librarian and the son of a lawyer," he wrote.
"I'd been taught that a deal was a deal and your word was your bond. Bill was more flexible; he felt free to renegotiate agreements until they were signed and sealed."
Allen, who is still friendly with Gates, also recounts how he overheard a conversation between Gates and new hire Steve Ballmer discussing Allen's poor performance, and how to dilute his shareholding and ease him out of the company. Allen confronted them over the issue and received a contrite apology.
Allen acknowledges in the memoir that he would not have had the business understanding to make Microsoft the success it has become. Gates was the entrepreneur who had been reading Fortune magazine since he was a teenager, Allen recounts, whereas Allen dealt with the technology vision for the company.
The account also gives some fascinating insights into the early years of the technology industry. When Microsoft won its contract to produce software for the Altair, the first personal computer, Allen had to write the bootstrap loader for the program in long-hand after the team forgot to include it in their original specification.
Gates was an abrasive manager during the first days of Microsoft who continually pushed staff, according to Allen. He describes Gates patrolling the company car park at the weekend to see who wasn't putting in the extra hours, and the screaming rows that would break out between staff.
"It was tough not to back off against Bill, with his intellect and foot tapping and body rocking; he came on like a force of nature," he said.
"The irony was that Bill liked it when someone pushed back and drilled down with him to get to the best solution. He wouldn't pull rank to end an argument. He wanted you to overcome his scepticism, and he respected those who did."
In one area of business, however, Gates proved lacking. When Allen announced that he was leaving the company to recover from cancer, Gates tried to get him to sell his shareholding for $5 per share.
Allen wanted $10 per share, which Gates refused as too expensive, and the shares went on to be the foundation of Allen's multi-billion dollar fortune.
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