Chris Williams: I don’t remember the first time I met Brad Silverberg at Microsoft. But I vividly remember the last meeting we had there. I’ll tell you more about that conversation soon enough. But that meeting was the reason I’ve kept in touch. And it’s why when I started a podcast about leadership, I knew I wanted bread to be one of my first guests.
To say that Brad Silverberg has led an interesting life in the tech industry would be the epitome of understatement. His career reads almost Forrest Gumpian and how he has been a witness to, or more accurately a participant in, some of the seminal points in the development of the personal computer. He went from being there for the dawn of windowed computing, to leading the version of Windows that launched the Microsoft juggernaut. He was even near the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake trying to ship software that very night.
For a kid from Cleveland to live such a fascinating life would be a tale in itself. But his story is much more than that. This student of history made so much history himself by being a clear and thoughtful leader. How he got there, the clarity of vision that drove him at every turn, and the perspective that brings on the future is enthralling.
Brad and I have had numerous long phone chats in the 20 plus years since that fateful meeting in my office in the Redmond West Microsoft campus. He often rebuffed my entreaties to record one of them as he prefers the ski slopes and bike trails to the limelight these days. I eventually convinced him to sit down on the record a few weeks ago. And that’s what this is all about.
This is Leading Smart, the show about managing in the brainpower age. It’s a field guide to the joys and challenges of leading and working in the modern workplace.
I’m Chris Williams, your guide to the stories and ideas that I hope will inspire you to be a better leader in the world of knowledge work.
This is the first of three episodes with Brad Silverberg. In this episode, he recounts how serendipity and vision drove his career. This is Episode 203 part one of my conversation with Brad Silverberg.
Chris Williams: Brad Silverberg and I are both kids from northern Ohio, me from Toledo. He from Cleveland. In a strange coincidence, we both ended up in Rhode Island in the early 1970s. I was in high school in Newport while he was at Brown University in Providence. We wouldn’t meet in person however, until some 20 years later at Microsoft.
One of the things I’ve long been fascinated with is how people find their life’s passion. A precious few people seem to feel it nearly from birth, but I find most people stumble across it through some random twist of fate. Brad’s story was one of those.
Brad Silverberg: It’s actually, to me at least, an interesting story of serendipity. Because in high school, I graduated high school in 72. graduate college in 76, in computers weren’t a thing at all. I mean, I had no exposure to computers in high school. And I was not actually much of a science person in high school, either. I was most I was focused on political science, history, that kind of stuff. And while I loved math in high school, and felt I was pretty good at math in high school, I thought, okay, that’s what I ever do with math for a career or whatever. So, I was also pretty passionate about political science and history. So I actually I went to Brown as a modern European history major, or a political science major.
And one of the attractions to Brown is that they have what’s called an open curriculum. There’s no distribution requirements. So you don’t have to take so many credits of this subject or that subject or that subject. You don’t have to be a well rounded person and I thought, oh great this, I don’t ever have to take another math science course throughout my life. I could just study history and political science and stuff.
And freshman year, first semester, I’m standing in the registrar’s line to fill out the last course on my course schedule. And I had a political science course and a history course, I had a foreign language course, German, and then I was gonna sign up for linguistics. I love languages too. So I’m standing in this long line and this is obviously before anything is done online. And I looked over the shoulder person in front of me to see what courses he was signing up for. He was signing up for a course called AM 51 I had no idea what AM 51 even stood for. So I pulled open the big open big large course catalog, four inches thick course catalog book and looked up and said Applied Mathematics 51 Introduction to Computer Languages. I had no idea computers even had languages. I didn’t even know what the Applied Mathematics Department was. And I said, well I like languages. So maybe I’ll take that course instead. So I crossed off linguistics 101 I wrote in AM 51 and I said, you know, I’ll see I’ll try it out and see if I like it or not.
Now, the other thing that Brown had that was really very valuable to me was they had you could take any course pass fail. So I thought okay, freshman year, I’m coming from public school to an Ivy League college, I was pretty intimidated, how I might be able to compete, so I decided to take most of my courses, first semester freshman year pass fail just to ease myself into the college experience, try to get up to speed and not really have to worry about grades. So I thought it was a really incredible, valuable thing that Brown offered because it did encourage kids to experiment and get out of their comfort zone, take classes that they might not otherwise take, because they know I’m on a Pre-Law track, which is, you know, you want to have good grades to get into a good law school. And having pass fail was was was real incentive for me to experiment with my course selection.
So I said, Okay, sure. I love languages. I have no idea what this means, but I’ll take it. So I took the class. And for the first month or two, I was completely, utterly lost. I was I just didn’t get it. It didn’t click and I was frustrated and… but I’m pretty stubborn. And while I had been tempted to drop the class in the first couple of weeks, by the time I really felt overwhelmed that I wasn’t getting it, it was kind of it was too late to drop the class. So I stuck with it. And then about two months into the class, and we were on semester system, one Saturday evening, it just clicked. And like, Okay, I get it now. The computer does exactly what I say no more, no less. And I have to be very, very precise on what I say when I don’t say and so I took the class I did well in the class, I said, Okay, okay, I’ll take the next course in a sequence. And I liked that even more.
Meanwhile, I’m still on this Pre-Law track and I’m finding on spending all my time on my computer class and enjoying it a lot more than the other classes that was really, this was more about my future. So sophomore year we had to sign up for the core class for computer science majors, actually, it was named even have a computer science major at that point. It was part of the Applied Mathematics Department, computer science concentration. So sign up for the core class, sophomore year, first semester. And it was it was a tough class. This was a class that was intended to separate
CW: the wheat from the chaff
BS: the wheat from the chaff in terms of who was going to major in and there weren’t very many computer science majors in that day. And it was it was a boot camp. It was I was spending, you know, 40, 50 hours a week just on that class outside of the class.
And I loved it. I loved it I loved and so I kind of had a tough meeting with myself. Try to figure out what’s my, what am I going to major in. And while I understood what a Pre-Law track would be, and how that could lead to a potentially successful career, my heart was in this computer stuff. And I decided, I had no idea what I would what I would do with a computer science degree at that point. This is still early 70s. And most people who were graduating computer science, they go work for defense companies, banks, IBM, all companies that had no desire for.
But I just was a it was a time of experimentation in my life. And this is what I was really passionate about. And I decided, Okay, I’m gonna major in computer science. So I changed my major. I ended up majoring in computer science. My advisor at the time, I’m still very good friends with Andy Van Damme who wrote the classic computer graphics book, I was in Providence couple years ago for his 80th birthday party. And he’s been my mentor throughout my career and changed my life. And me going to Brown and they, I would have never ended up in computers had I gone to any other school because it wouldn’t have encouraged that type of experimentation.
CW: Yeah, the cross disciplinary stuff would never have happened, right?
BS: I never would have experimented with something new. I would have stayed on kind of the track that I was on trajectory for and so I switched to computers. I loved it. And after I graduated, though, I was still I was still pretty immature.
And I wasn’t really ready to go out into the world and make a living. So I did what a lot of people do in that situation is I went to grad school. Just kind of kick the can down the road a little bit more to try to. That’s the Jobs was, again, it was going to work for companies that really they weren’t me.
I wasn’t the corporate type person and I didn’t want to go work for those type of companies. So I decided to go to grad school. I got a master’s in computer science. And at that point,
CW: there weren’t many schools that had Master’s in computer science at that point were there?
BS: There weren’t. MIT did. The University of Toronto did. Illinois did. I did I think Berkeley,
CW: Michigan did because I was at Michigan, right about then. And they did but that was brand new.
BS: It was new. Now me the whole field was really new and I end up getting a master’s and my advisor wanted me to continue on to a PhD. But at that point, I kind of had enough of academia. I could see I was never going to be a first rate computer science researcher, I’d be okay but I wasn’t going to be at the top. So I thought, okay, maybe I’ll go get a job.
And I had been to the west coast in summer after I graduated college, I went with my then girlfriend on a cross country road trip and we went to California and I fell in love with the West Coast and I knew I was going to end up living on the west coast. So I took a job at SRI Stanford Research Institute, which I thought of as kind of a halfway house for academics. It was still academically oriented, but it was private industry.
CW: The 1970s and 80s were a pivotal era in the development of personal computing and the area now known as Silicon Valley was the center of that universe. The Stanford Research Institute or SRI was a spin out of Stanford University to research and commercialize a broad range of developments. They invented the computer mouse and were heavily involved in the development of computer networking. SRI was part of transforming the defense industry focused ARPANET into the internet we know today.
Also deeply involved at the time was Xerox. Though they had made their fortune in paper copiers like many big corporations of the era, they invested heavily in research in a broad range of disciplines. One of the centers of that research was there Palo Alto Research Center or PARC. There too, they did some of the key work that turned into the computers we know today. For example, they created the first graphical computer interfaces. That transformed computing from a world filled with punch cards and command lines for engineers into the windows of wonder we all know today.
In short, the Valley of that era is now seen as hallowed ground in the development of computing. And Brad was in the middle of it.
CW: Were you recruited out of college there? Did you go and apply there? I mean, did you specifically go to SRI because you wanted to be there.
BS: SRI was my second choice. My first choice was Xerox, advanced Systems Development Division, which was a development division for PARC. Yeah. I had probably the worst interview in my life. When I went to Xerox, I did a really terrible job and I didn’t get the job at Xerox and I did get the job at SRI which is just down the street from PARC and there were a lot of cross affiliations between SRI and PARC at the time.
So I was I really enjoyed working at SRI. Doug Engelbart was there at the time. He invented the mouse and the augment system. And I was exposed to the work that was happening at PARC, is some of the people who work at PARC got to use some of the machines, the Alto, the Grotto.
I was just intoxicated I was, it was really a case of moving to the valley in 1978. right time, right place and right skills, just perfect confluence of serendipity, just as going into computers was serendipity for me being, being in the valley in the late 70s and early 80s, just as personal computers and graphical computing, internet and networking. We were on the ARPANET back then. And SRI, SRI was actually the very first site on the ARPANET. They developed packet switching networking at the SRI. Ao I was really in a cool place.
CW: At this time in computing, the very early 1980s, Apple was just growing up from the Apple II computer that had been their origin. They started to develop a computer called the Lisa. Steve Jobs had visited Xerox PARC and was fascinated by the graphical computer interface. He felt it was a way to introduce computing to the masses.
The project was a technical tour de force and an economic disaster. But it later paved the way for the Macintosh, which most assuredly was not. And Brad Silverberg, was there.
CW: So how did you then move to Apple was it just did it seem obvious?
BS: Well, so, as the person computers are exploding and all this great, cool stuff, essentially from Xerox got commercialized. I got tired of working at SRI on essentially defense contracts. The area I was in was programming methodology. So we were developing tools to help people become more productive and develop better code. I like that. But while like the real world is taking off on like, I’m missing out. Out. There I am in SRI,
CW: you have the 1970s version of FOMO. Right fear of missing out?
BS: Absolutely. I mean, here’s all this incredibly exciting stuff taking this really exciting and inspiring work that Xerox had done and taking it into people’s homes. And so I’ve looked at a number of companies that were taking, essentially the work that Xerox was doing and commercializing it. And I interviewed at Apple and they were working on the Lisa at the time. And so I got a job as an individual contributor. writing code for Lisa work working for a guy named Tom Malloy, who’s currently great guy who had worked with actually Charles Symoni at PARC on the first version of Bravo. And so Tom was taking what he learned from Charles on building Bravo to Lisa and I worked on that for a couple of years. And that was exciting time. It was incredibly smart, passionate, insightful group of folks on our team and a number of those folks left the Lisa team to join the Mac team inside a bunch of trends. Were working on the Mac at the same time that was being developed with on longside and in competition with the Lisa.
CW: So then you moved on to Analytica, which was I think at that point, it was just a startup correct?
BS: That’s right. As much as I loved working at Apple on the Lisa, it was also pretty clear to me early on that the thing was going to be a commercial failure. I was just an individual computer contributor early on in my career and I had some ideas about how software should be done. But these guys were the pros. They were the experts. They were my bosses, they knew what they were doing. So I kind of soldiered on and then I saw basically, the project was not particularly well managed.
And it was a commercial disaster what was intended to be a single floppy 256k $2500 personal computer ended up with a megabyte of RAM, required hard disk, and $10,000 price tag. And it was DOA.
So I left a couple months actually before before it shipped. It was done, but it hadn’t you know, after RTM before was available. I could see this happening. Not gonna be successful and it was gonna be a bloodbath, because Steve Jobs did not care for the Lisa team. He, he hated the Lisa team with passion. And the Mac was was his baby. And it it was a brilliant product, but it also had some fatal flaws.
CW: It was the $2500 single floppy 25 k machine that you were talking about really.
BS: Well it was, well 128k. And it was supposed to be $1,000 and then that up at $2500. So it had some fatal flaws. And it’s an initial implementation too that caused it to be a commercial success for a number of years. But it had, you know a lot, many of the right ideas many much, much more than the Lisa did and the way they went about that development process was much more in tune with thought process should go.
CW: So you went to analytic all right?
BS: That’s right. I figured once the least of fail, Steve was gonna fire most of the people on the Lisa, which he did. And I didn’t want to be around for that. So I, I left to work with a fellow that I had worked with at Apple actually, who was a product manager on the Lisa, Eric Michelman.
And Eric had got to be good friends with a guy named Adam Bosworth, who worked at Citibank at the time. And so, started a company called Analytica to build graphical database for the IBM PC. And we had a really, really strong team. We had some great ideas, but sometimes you’re a little early, was really before graphical. We had to develop all the graphics, we develop all this stuff ourselves, rather than writing on standard platform, Windows 1.0 had been released in that timeframe, but we can see that was building a product on top of Windows while it wasn’t gonna be successful.
So we had a lot of great ideas. We invented something which Eric later got the patent for on pivot tables. Adam obviously, you know Adam and went on to do many great things in his career. We had a great team, we got built a very interesting but not commercially successful product. We got acquired by Borland in 1985. And so I went to work for Phillippe.
CW: In the middle of 1980s, personal computing was just coming of age, the creation of the IBM PC in 1981 really jump started the industry. What followed was a fertile period of development with many companies entering the market. Some famous old names like IBM and Hewlett Packard, as well as upstarts like Compaq, Dell and of course, Apple.
But what limited the market for personal computers was software. You could have all the hardware in the world. But without the programs to run on it, you had little more than an expensive box of electronics. This was the world Microsoft had rushed into with MS DOS and later Windows.
Yet beneath that there was another problem. To write software, you need software. You need the programs that enable developers to create the word processors, spreadsheets, and other programs we all know and love. That’s the world of developer tools, of computer languages. That’s the world I spent much of my career in.
In the 1980s. This was a very competitive world. And one of the bright stars in that arena was Borland. Founded by the mercurial Frenchmen Philippe Khan, Borland was famous for its many software development tools, most notably Turbo Pascal.
CW: And you sort of got back into the languages world at that point, right?
BS: That’s right. I always loved languages and Borland’s leading products at the time were obviously Turbo Pascal, written by Anders Hejlsberg. And Sidekick which was a little pop up DOS TSR product and then they acquired a product called Reflex which was the graphical database, we bought Paradox which you’re obviously familiar with. We developed their own database clone that you probably remember.
CW: we competed against, yes.
BS: And we bought turbo C, We developed Quattro, spreadsheet product Quattro Pro, a word processor, which wasn’t all that great, but so yeah, I went to work for Borland. I ended up running R&D for Borland. We built really amazing team of incredible developers who developed I think, you know, best in class products and especially in the development tools area, I think Quattro Pro. And databases Paradox was leading for PC based on SQL databases. They did an incredible job there. It was, it was a lot of Philippe was a gas to work for the guy was larger than life, personality. He’s a lot of fun. Probably the most fun boss I ever had. We did a lot of fun stuff together, get this laughing.
CW: Oh, that was one of the things I was gonna say you you’ve had the privilege of working for three pretty larger than life human beings. Right? You worked for Steve, you worked for Philippe who is a unique character and obviously you worked for Bill. Those people must have colored your view of what leadership looked like.
BS: Absolutely, and they all have very different styles of leadership.
And I, I learned different things from each one of them. Philippe, I really learned positioning and how to have fun and how to recruit a great team of software developers and give them a lot of freedom. And when you have really good people, you trust them, and you let them go off and do great work. And Philippe was just a master. He was a genius at marketing and positioning, and really, that underdog mentality, and we just embraced being the underdogs and getting under Microsoft skin building products that we were really proud of.
CW: On October 17, 1989, just after five o’clock in the evening, the San Francisco Bay area was hit with a magnitude 6.9 earthquake. Most of the rest of the country remembers watching the World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and The Oakland Athletics which was just about to start, or from the incredible pictures of the aftermath, including the pancaked Cypress freeway viaduct, or the video of the cars on the Bay Bridge as it collapsed, Brad had a much more personal view of the quake.
BS: We went through the earthquake in 1989. Together, we were in the process of cutting the master discs for Quattro Pro when the earthquake happened. And it was probably the most terrifying moment in my life wearing two storey building and the building should look like a floor as we’re rolling like you were on the ocean surf and ceiling tiles coming down bookcases falling over the sprinkler system overhead building shaking like okay, I’m just I’m on the second floor and I’m I am waiting at that moment for the building to collapse and we’re gonna die.
CW: Wow. Particularly from a guy for a guy from Ohio who was not really familiar with earthquakes, right?
BS: It was It was terrifying. Finally the building stopped shaking ran out to the parking lot and as we stepped onto the outfall, your feet sunk into the asphalt, because it had heated up we were, we were two miles from the epicenter. And that that was a very psychedelic experience to have your feet sink down into the blacktop.
And over the next week, the team pulled together we set up computers we salvaged what we could, we could tops off to let them dry out. Obviously water and computers don’t mix too well but we were able to pull RAM chips from this computer and stick them in that computer and hard drives and cobble together enough of a group of machines that we could restart the build and get it Quattro Pro out and shipped and that was a incredible bonding experience to go through that with your team. And I loved working with people at Borland and I loved the people.
But I ended up leaving eventually because Borland was kind of a boom/bust experience. We go through these great times we ship the new product, it would do super well. Philippe would then come up with 10 more new ideas of products we should build. We’d hire a bunch of people, we’d over expand, then business would slow down and we’d have to go through layoffs. And layoffs are painful, layoffs are really have to go to people who are good people. This is not culling bad performers. This is good people who put their hearts lives committed to the team and you got to look them in the eye and lay them off. And it was really painful and you go through that cycle a couple times, don’t once you hope you never have to do it again you do twice and like… ugh… to do it after more than twice it’s like, I felt that that was how Philippe was wired and wasn’t going to change.
CW: At this point, Brad, once again was drawn by the vision of computing for the masses. It seemed seen this vision time and again, first at SRI and at Xerox, then at Apple, and it was not a vision he could shake. So when Microsoft came knocking, it was hard to leave Borland, but he had to grab the chance to realize the potential he had seen for years.
BS: I had been recruited by Microsoft. Obviously, I was known by Microsoft some of our products, they continue to win the PC Mag Tech Excellence Awards, which was kind of the big prize we were all aiming for. Philippe was a master at marketing. And there’s a bunch of things that that got bill and Steve’s attention.
CW: I’m convinced that FoxPro got on their radar because we won the PC Mag Tech Excellence Award. So…
BS: yeah, of course, if you were them, you do the same thing. You identify who are the best people at your competitors and try to go hire them. So they came knocking in 89. Actually, this is before the earthquake and offered me a position to be VP, aVP in the application division running Excel and a database product that was under development at the time.
At the time, Microsoft had maybe eight VPs maybe 10 VPs. I think there are only three product VPs. Had an offer it was good offer. But after a couple months of putting them off, I ended up deciding to stay Borland. I was just too committed and loyal to my team. I love my team, they love working for me. And I am Microsoft was there the enemy? Let’s put it out you know, to, to leave Borland to go to Microsoft was, was a really difficult. I almost felt like a betrayal, of everything that we had built that at Borland and. So I ended up staying at there were some issues that Borland that I wasn’t happy with I discussed with Philippe and he assured me that okay, they would be changed if I stayed so I stayed. And then, well, the commitments that were made to me after I said I stayed. they were a little more transitory. And the things that I had hoped change would change, particularly some of the boom/bust stuff wasn’t gonna wasn’t gonna change.
CW: That wasn’t in Philippe’s nature. He was very much a Mercurial sort.
BS: he was he’s a great guy. He’s incredibly creative and charismatic…
CW: enormous smile. I’ll never forget that enormous smile.
BS: …fun to be around and go skiing and wakeboarding or wake surfing and wind surfing and surfing and sailing and all kinds of incredible stuff together. I admired him I learned an incredible amount from Philippe on how to build products that appeal to the masses and pricing and guerilla marketing tactics and like.
And he was an incredible recruiter he was he had a very good sense for acquisitions and acquiring company for companies for talent. Then building really first rate development teams that I’ve really enjoyed working with.
It’s a little bit coincidental but maybe not 100%. around Thanksgiving 1989 this was after the earthquake. I realized things at Borland really weren’t going to change. And I gave it a little bit more thought I called Bill back and I said, you know, Bill, if you’ve got a job for me that I get excited about, I’m ready to ready to say yes. And so he came back with me, came back to me and he said, how would you like to run the Windows and MS DOS businesses.
Now this was at a time when Windows 3.0 was in beta. And I was a beta tester of Windows at at Borland and I’d also used OS/2 and being evangelized by Cam and Peter Neupert, and all Microsoft folks about OS/2. I didn’t think much of OS/2, I didn’t really think it was gonna be successful. But as a beta tester of Win 3.0, I thought, ah! now this one, this one has potential this one, in some sense was helping to fulfill I saw as having the potential to fulfill the vision that I had had throughout my career of graphic computing for the masses, for everyday people, something which Xerox was never gonna do. They were strictly focused on knowledge workers and big businesses. Apple perhaps with the Apple II had that with the Lisa and the Mac it was they’re really targeted towards a higher end more elite user and high margins. They were never committed to going really broad with their products.
And I thought that was a huge missed opportunity. I thought I was in love with the vision of personal computers for everybody around the world at affordable prices running on commodity hardware. That was never going to happen out of Apple. It’s never going to happen out of another startup. But I saw that Windows 3.0 had the potential to be that product. So I did. Bill offered me that position. I said, I said yes. And took a couple months to work out the details. And…
CW: so it was early in 90, right when you moved?
BS: Early 1990 that I said, Yes. It was like in February, I told Microsoft, yes. But Philippe was in France. Sleep as you know is French he would spend quite a bit of time in France and he was going he was spending a couple months in France at that time. And this was something I needed to tell Philippe face to face, you know, send them an email or call them up on the phone. Say, Hey, I’m leaving the company, and I’m head of R&D of, and you’re going to Microsoft.
CW: I’m headed over to the enemy, right?
BS: And yes, you know, you gotta you gotta put your big boy pants on. And, you know, I know he’s not gonna be happy. But you know, it’s the right thing to do. And so I had to wait for him to come back from France. And first or second day back, I scheduled a meeting with him and told him I was leaving the company. So where are you going? I told Microsoft, and he had security escort me out the building right at that moment.
It was a tough scene. There are a number of folks that want to have a farewell party for me and Philippe sent out an email telling people they weren’t allowed to do that and anybody else farewell party for Brad was going to be fired or something and it was a tough situation between me and Philippe for a couple years. He was pretty upset.
But it was also it was a complicated time for me that intermediate period between when I had accepted a job at Microsoft, but I was still for another six weeks head of R&D at Borland. And I had to be 100% committed to Borland. ethically, I’m employed by Borland. I’m running Borland until the day I actually quit. I’m 100%, true, blue, Borland person. And during that period, I had one of my top developers come to me and said, Hey, Brad, I want to talk to you. I have an offer from Microsoft. What should I do? And I told Chris, I talked him out it. I said, you don’t want to go there. Look at all the cool stuff we’re doing here. Borland raised all the negative issues about Microsoft and I, I sold him on staying, staying at Borland. And…
CW: what did he say to you after you left?
BS: Well, he was, obviously I felt guilty about it. And he was a little bit upset about it. But I explained to him, Chris, what could I do? Right? Really? What could I do? I mean, as long as I’m in charge at Borland, I have to be 100%. Committed Borland. I can’t really think about what’s good for Microsoft tell him I don’t want blue badge and Microsoft and I hope you can understand I hope you can forgive me and a couple years later, he ended up in Microsoft.
Those next couple of years at Borland were taught here so I came to Microsoft in early 1990 actually accepted the end of March. The Windows 3.0 launch was May 22. In New York City, they kept my hiring confidential till after the announcement. They didn’t want to disrupt the team or freak the team leaders out like, just as they’re getting ready to launch a product, let the guy in charge know that you’re gonna be replaced. Probably not a good thing to do. So I was kept quiet
But those are the early 90s. were tough for Borland. Again, it went bought Ashton Tate, which was a really stupid move. It was really I think it was vanity on Philippe’s part because dBase at that point was was gonna die. dBase IV was a terrible product. We had Paradox, Paradox had all the momentum in the world, companies like FoxPro are killing dBase and the dBase compatible market, we were also, we had a dBase product and Ashton Tate was gonna die but Phillipe bought it. And it became a huge distraction trying to digest that Ashton Tate.
CW: He also overpaid for Ashton Tate as well,
BS: he overpaid and it was it was really a move that led to the downfall, collapse of the company. And in a couple years between 90 and 93, 94, a lot of really talented people left Borland and quite a number of them came to Microsoft. I had a strict policy of non solicitation, which meant I would never pursue them.
CW: Was that a personal policy or was that…
BS: yeah that was a personal policy was kind of just what I felt was the right ethics. I still felt loyal to Borland but even I didn’t work there. And I felt loyal to Microsoft. And I did stay in touch with all my, with my good friends and wanted to be top of mind should they ever decide that they wanted to leave Borland but they would think, oh, hey Brad, Microsoft, maybe I should give Microsoft call but I never initiated a conversation that said, Hey, you should come to work for Microsoft. If they if they initiated the conversation Hey, I am interested in coming to Microsoft then. Sure I would follow up and pursue them.
And we did hire quite a number of Borland employees enough so that Borland ended up suing — this is before you were in HR — Borland ended up suing Microsoft. I don’t really think there was any legal basis but it’s a free world. But we ended up signing a settlement agreement with Borland that we wouldn’t, wouldn’t hire more Borland or some limited number of Borland people? I forget the details for the next couple of years. But I was okay.
As typically happens with with companies that are struggling the best people leave first. And we had, we had more than our fair share of incredible people, including Anders HejlsBerg, of course went on to do amazing things and still doing amazing things and Microsoft Peter Kucol and the list goes on and on and on number of people we got
CW: in the languages division we got Sin Lew who did some great stuff and in the back ends
BS: and we got Paul Gross. We got Peter, we got Tanj Bennett, we got Chris Broome. Chris was the one who actually I referred to earlier in terms of he had earlier accepted a job with Microsoft. I talked him out of it.
Got a number of the Danes, Borland was started really with Philippe’s relationship with Danes. Anders and a whole bunch of other people who developed Sidekick. It was kind of this goldmine of really talented developers that nobody in the world really knew up and Philippe and Borland and then a pile of them or building contractual relationships if they were independent, but so we had a lot of Danes and a number of the Danes came to, came to work for Microsoft. And I’d say, out of the other top people who didn’t come to Microsoft, probably the majority of them ended up going to Netscape.
So it was a super, super talented group. We had a tremendous amount of fun together and it really taught me a lot about software positioning, building great teams, vision, culture.
CW: That’s where we’re going to leave our conversation this time. Next time Brad and I discuss his first leadership experiences, and what makes a great leader.
BS: I found I had good talent for that. I found I had a really good talent for identifying young talent earlier on their career, identifying their potential, and helping them reach that potential.
CW: We’ll also discuss how he became the father of Windows 95.
BS: And I was very happy with the way Windows 95 turned out. It defined computing for a generation, we really made a difference to the world.
CW: And we’ll explore how his passion for the internet led to that fateful conversation that he and I had in my office when he decided to leave Microsoft. But that’s next time.
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That’s it for this episode. Next episode we continue the conversation with Brad Silverberg. we delve deep into leadership and his chase for the vision of personal computing. Until then, please remember that each of the several dozen decisions you make today are part of Leading Smart.