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Bill Gates' Management Style 362

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the behold-the-glorious-borg-icon dept.
replicant108 wrote in to give us Tom Evslin's fascinating account of working for Microsoft in the early 90s. "So you're in there presenting your product plan to billg, steveb, and mikemap. Billg typically has his eyes closed and he's rocking back and forth. He could be asleep; he could be thinking about something else; he could be listening intently to everything you're saying. The trouble is all are possible and you don't know which. Obviously, you have to present as if he were listening intently even though you know he isn't looking at the PowerPoint slides you spent so much time on. At some point in your presentation billg will say "that's the dumbest fucking idea I've heard since I've been at Microsoft." He looks like he means it. However, since you knew he was going to say this, you can't really let it faze you. Moreover, you can't afford to look fazed; remember: he's a bully."
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Bill Gates' Management Style

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  • by N8F8 (4562) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @11:36AM (#19010583)
    The most important thing to have for any project is a CHAMPION. So if you aren't ready to champion your own idea then you are wasting everybody's time.
  • That Borg Icon (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 06, 2007 @11:42AM (#19010645)
    from the behold-the-glorious-borg-icon dept.

    Taco, isn't it long overdue for that Borg icon to be retired? No other slashdot topic icon has that juvenile caricature. And Bill Gates isn't even the CEO of Microsoft anymore. He is the chairman.

    That icon isn't even relevant anymore. It's time slashdot grow up as well.

  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @11:45AM (#19010669)

    At some point in your presentation billg will say "that's the dumbest fucking idea I've heard since I've been at Microsoft." He looks like he means it. However, since you knew he was going to say this, you can't really let it faze you.
    This explains why no one put a stop to IE, ActiveX, UAC, etc. when he said it. So I guess Mr. Gates isn't responsible for everything wrong at Microsoft ... it's the people who didn't listen to his good judgment. ;-)
  • Poker (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tribbin (565963) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @11:46AM (#19010673) Homepage
    No wonder he's ####ing good at poker.

    Oh, go see 'Pirates of Silicon Valley'. You'll enjoy it.

    http://imdb.com/title/tt0168122/ [imdb.com]
  • Obviously (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Z00L00K (682162) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @11:52AM (#19010723) Homepage
    that may be one way of managing things. It may just be that he tries to unbalance the presenter and see if the presenter is able to catch up. If the presenter is catching up then the idea may not be so bad after all... But the problem here is that this will be much more dependent on the presenter than the idea itself, so in the end it's not a really good filter for good/bad ideas.

    This is usually the problem within any organization - people with good ideas but bad presentation skills can either develop the ideas and ask forgiveness later or forget about the whole idea unless they can get the idea to someone that's a good presenter.

    It will be far better management style to actually give constructive criticism, but that is also a lot harder.

  • by writermike (57327) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @11:54AM (#19010749)

    Maybe you should've spent less time on the PowerPoint slides and more time thinking about how your idea was going to (figuratively) grab Billg around the throat and shake him until he said, "That's the best idea I've ever heard since I've been here at Microsoft."



    I mean, shit, do you really think you're going to impress the CEO of Microsoft with a PowerPoint presentation, of all things?

    I've worked with bosses like that. Presuming you could impress them, they'd never let you know it. They still tell you your idea sucks and that you suck and that they don't understand why they hired you in the first place. They wish you were dead, sock you in the gut, etc. They're bullies. That's the point of the article, I think.

    In general, however, I don't know if this story is an example of 'billg' so much as it is an example of asshole bosses, of which there are legions.
  • by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @11:55AM (#19010757)
    msshill: "So Bill, this world wide web thing is really starting to take off in the academic world. I think it's time we started making our own browser and include it with all installs of Windows."
    billg: "That's the dumbest fucking idea I've heard since I've been at Microsoft."

    Yep, sounds about right...
  • by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @12:09PM (#19010849) Homepage Journal
    But not everyone can be a champion. You have to have followers to have leaders. Just because you are a follower doesn't mean you aren't smart, or not worthy of working on X project. You know what happens to corps where the leader/follower ratio is skewed? DOWNSIZING.
  • Re:Obviously (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DogDude (805747) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @12:17PM (#19010911) Homepage
    Every corporation has a culture. That's real. Maybe the top brass have a certain kind of people that they hire, or a certain kind of mentality that they promote, and this is part of it. I know that if somebody comes to me with an idea, if they're not excited about it, neither am I. That's not unusual.
  • Re:Joel on BillG (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rikkus-x (526844) <rik@rikkus.info> on Sunday May 06, 2007 @12:19PM (#19010925) Homepage
    Sounds like he handled it like a teenage girl meeting her pop idol.
  • by Flying pig (925874) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @12:25PM (#19010955)
    I had one of those bosses. Only my idea wasn't just dumb fucking stupid, I took too long to tell it. (Well, he did have a degree in journalism, and you could see how that would fit you for CEO of a tech company.)

    Only, being naive and not realising this was just challenge #101, I left, joined a small company which just grew and grew, then left after a difference of opinion with the CEO, then joined a startup which just grew and grew. Interestingly, our CEO is able to motivate people without a single swearword.

    It's nice for Microsoft that it is so big and all, but (as Scott Adams notes somewhere, I think) all the really smart people prefer to live in Switzerland as compared to the US, i.e. to live somewhere where even politics is truly local and individualism is valued versus somewhere where the driving forces in society are completely out of your control and individualism is just having a different alignment of ballpoints in the pocket protector.

    It must have been really exciting and creative to work for Microsoft - once. Perhaps some of the pent up anger in the founders, if it is reported accurately, is simply because, even for them, it's no fun anymore.

  • by Maestro4k (707634) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @12:36PM (#19011039) Journal

    The most important thing to have for any project is a CHAMPION. So if you aren't ready to champion your own idea then you are wasting everybody's time.

    There's a distinct difference between expecting someone to champion their project and being a bully and abusing them verbally. Telling every person that their project idea is "the dumbest fucking idea I've heard since I've been at Microsoft." is just being downright mean. Especially when you just glare at them coldly after they defend themselves (as the article points out).

    And then you get people who'll imitate the behavior without the smarts to back it up, so it becomes nothing BUT abuse. (Middle management for example.) I think Bill's management technique explains a lot about Microsoft's behavior over the years and why they're so disliked in the technical community. In fact looking back at how MS acted during their two biggest trials (the US anti-trust and EU anti-trust) you can see this "bullying" all over the place. Acting like a bully when you're the defendant in court is not a good idea. It'll just piss the judge (and possibly the jury) off, and they're the ones passing judgment on you.

    Besides, it's not like this technique has worked incredibly well for MS, especially in areas like security. MS has also put out some really lousy stuff over the years, like MS Bob, that were apparently "championed" all the way to release, then bombed. Maybe if Bill had developed a culture less focused on bullying they could have avoided some of those things, and saved money. When you force every one of your employees to defend their projects in such a manner then how many are going to be willing to listen when people point out problems with them? You can't have any second doubts if you have to defend your projects constantly, so people will stop listening to any criticism, leading to lower quality all around.

  • by N8F8 (4562) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @12:45PM (#19011115)
    Whatever you choose to believe from your limited insights in MS or any other company's management, in the end there has to be that person who has the balls to have a vision and follow through with it. It's also true that is is very difficult to be an effective leader and be liked by all the folks working for you. Few people like having to answer to authority, be held accountable for their actions or do what it takes to get the job done - no matter what.
  • by JacksBrokenCode (921041) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @12:51PM (#19011171)

    But not everyone can be a champion.

    Read TFA. "That meant that I and the other product managers...". Not everyone has to walk into a meeting like this with billg and stand this trial by fire. If you're a product manager, you should be the ultimate champion of your product.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 06, 2007 @12:59PM (#19011219)
    "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." --Bertrand Russell
  • by rjamestaylor (117847) <rjamestaylor@gmail.com> on Sunday May 06, 2007 @01:22PM (#19011401) Journal
    That story of the Flood-fill rewrite makes Billg sound like a great manager. So does being the richest guy in the world...
  • Re:Shock and awe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @01:24PM (#19011425)

    Some people use this as a way to gauge the competency of the presenter.

    Or he could just be an asshole.

  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @01:32PM (#19011471)
    Bill and Linus may have similar approaches to their product, but its how they deal with people that differs.

    Gates seems to spend more time cutting people down than ideas. When you're making a proposal to management, you need to be prepared to have it picked apart. But that needs to be done constructively and without making it personal.

    It appears to me that Gates is trying to play 'tough guy'. This is a technique I've seen on jobs requiring physical strength but not much thinking. The biggest, toughest, meanest guy gets to be foreman. But it doesn't fit well in the white collar world. I've heard it referred to as 'Big Mans Disease'. I've seen quite a bit of trouble in my travels consulting for various engineering firms where people avoid a blow hard. When this person is in a position of authority, the organization can practically fall apart.

    Frankly, I'm surprised that Microsoft is able to hire any competent professionals who don't have some sort of self esteem problems given the culture that Gates and Ballmer have created.

  • by robla (4860) * on Sunday May 06, 2007 @01:34PM (#19011489) Homepage Journal

    ....is not an interesting problem to solve.

    It's hard to argue that Gates' persistent bullying was anything but good for shareholders [google.com] for at least the first 13 years of public trading. Even though the stock price has been relatively stagnant for the past few years, revenue and profit growth [google.com] are proof that the company still has healthy numbers.

    However, anyone considering working there needs to ask themselves what they really want to accomplish in life. Looking back, it can't be very fulfilling to say "I helped make that company successful. I fit in, by emulating the bullying, belittling style of my bosses all the way to the top, and now look what we've created!"

    There are plenty of companies out there (*cough* [1]) who are trying to be successful while actually also having the kind of environment where you look forward to seeing the people you work with. Having hippy-dippy ideals creates plenty of problems, but they are way more interesting problems than the problems you find at a company like Microsoft.

    1. Shameless plug [lindenlab.com]

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Sunday May 06, 2007 @01:35PM (#19011497) Homepage Journal
    It's not just mean; it's stupid. (And not just because being mean to people when you don't have to is stupid, although that's also true.) Kind of a "boy who cried wolf" thing -- if your boss tells you every single thing you come up with is stupid, sooner or later you're going to stop paying attention to his judgement at all, and just go ahead and do your own thing regardless of what he says. OTOH, if he tells you that your smart ideas are smart, then when he tells you that one of your ideas is stupid, you'll pay attention.

    Yes, I think this explains Microsoft's behavior in court ... and also the general bug-ridden bloat of pretty much all their software, even the stuff that (unlike Bob) succeeds on the market. If no one has any yardstick by which to judge their work, then course most of their work is going to be crap.
  • by Maestro4k (707634) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @02:13PM (#19011777) Journal

    There's a world of difference between telling everyone that their idea is "the dumbest fucking idea I've heard since I've been at Microsoft." and testing potential hires on how they'd fine-tune a bubble sort. One's belittling and demeaning along with being untrue (and known to be untrue by the person saying it) most of the time. (You simply can't say this and it be true every time, also it's not just saying it's a bad idea, but the worst idea he's ever heard, making it much more difficult for the statement to be true.) The other one is seeing how creative someone is technically. In Google's case they're using this to judge the quality of potential employees before deciding whether to hire them or not. They're not alone in testing potential hires in such a manner, although they do seem to go above and beyond what most companies do.

    As far as adapting, Google seems to adapt better than Microsoft, at least so far. MS tends to ignore certain markets/new directions until it's completely obvious they were wrong and missed the boat. (The infamous move to go after the Internet is one good example of this.) MS also seems to be better at following others than leading, for example in Internet search and online advertising most recently. This is not to say that MS isn't ever innovative (I think their Live service for Xbox has been innovative at least in some areas), but that that they seem to follow other's innovations more than they innovate themselves. Google has a big advantage for adapting because of their letting employees spend 20% of their time on personal projects. When those projects become useful they can be launched as a company project/product and more people assigned to them. That allows them to try out tons of different directions continually. Also they keep improving their products and do so at a quicker rate than MS does, although MS is more hampered with their traditional release cycle for products like Office and Windows. Gmail is a good example there, new features still get added even though it's no longer considered beta, and the product today is far more useful than it was at launch.

    As far as Google Apps goes the whole point is that it's an online app, I wouldn't expect to see an offline component anytime soon. I do expect to see them offer servers that you can run on your local LAN/WAN with versions of Google Apps on them that'll address some of the concerns about losing access to the apps if your Internet connection goes down. You can get a local search appliance now, so I think it's just a matter of time. I suspect they've not worked out all the details yet on how they'll maintain those Apps Appliances and keep them updated and that's why they aren't offering them already.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 06, 2007 @02:29PM (#19011909)
    So you're saying her reaction to "That's the dumbest fucking idea ever" was to drop, unzip his pants, and commence with a hummer.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 06, 2007 @02:47PM (#19012031)
    Innovative people can see the MS Management behavior, and wont work at that
    place.

    Google on the other hand is getting all the innovative people.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 06, 2007 @02:52PM (#19012075)
    So you've taught your daughter that violence is an acceptable way to solve her problems? That's genius. You should be parent of the fucking year. And then she should be taken away and raised by a sane human being while you get your ass pounded in fucking prison.

    Violence is an acceptable response for violence or the credible immediate threat of violence. Violence is not an acceptable response to rudeness or social conflict.

  • Decisions (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hachete (473378) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @02:58PM (#19012119) Homepage Journal
    At least

    1. He makes decisions
    2. He lets you know what he thinks

    Must fucking managers never do either then back-stab you into oblivion. No, not bitter. Not bitter at all
  • by robla (4860) * on Sunday May 06, 2007 @02:59PM (#19012121) Homepage Journal
    I think that Microsoft's culture did represent a huge improvement over the status quo of the day (before IBM got knocked off the top of the hill). While Microsoft was (and I'm sure remains) very hierarchical, the brutally frank conversations that happened there up-and-down the management chain were welcomed, whereas in most organizations, people worried about getting fired for even the mildest criticism of their bosses. Free soft drinks and casual Monday through Friday weren't the norm when Microsoft was first started. Generous stock options for rank-and-file employees also wasn't the norm, and even though Microsoft wasn't entirely unique in this regard, they were unique in offering MSFT stock options, which, for a while, were worth *a lot*. So, I think they can be forgiven for thinking "if they can't take the abuse, let 'em work for IBM". It's easy, in hindsight, to wonder how much better they could have done by using the state of the art management practices of 2007, but not much more useful than to wonder how much more productive Isaac Newton could have been with a computer.

    However, they have a tougher job now. Stock options don't motivate the way they used to, and there are very few places left that think its a good idea to require good CompSci graduates to come to work dressed in suit and tie, so there's no remaining competitive advantage in having a lax dress code. I really hope for their sake that the hundreds of old timer managers there have broken a lot of the really bad habits that have gotten them to this point, or else the next generation of stars they need to recruit are going to look elsewhere.
  • by localman (111171) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @03:59PM (#19012519) Homepage
    I know, I'm just trying to remind all the would be project managers out there that being a champion isn't going to mean much if your product sucks. I've seen a lot of project managers who took the mentality that success was wholly a matter of their salesmanship and management skills. But they forgot that you actually have to have something that doesn't suck. Maybe it's fixable, or maybe it's fundamentally flawed, like if you're the project manager for a DRM product. You can't solve all problems by being a high powered project manager.

    This may seem obvious, but I still see this all the time.
  • by JustNiz (692889) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @04:02PM (#19012533)
    >> Exchange Server did more to make email a reality for corporates than any other product.

    Not at all.

    Many companies had unix-based email WAAY before Exchange even came out. Then when it did, some non-technical higher-up usually decides the company should 'upgrade' to Microsoft exchange.

    I've been at several companies where exactly this happened and exactly the same result too: Before the upgrade, we had an email system that just worked, and never needed any maintenance. After we switched, we needed to hire a whole office of support staff to deal with the day-to-day issues of ongoing Exchange problems.

    I'm always surprised how long its taken them to come round to moving back to Unix/Linux solutions, but they all did in the end.
  • by Maestro4k (707634) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @04:37PM (#19012825) Journal

    Don't let me get in the way of everyone's dogmatic Gates-hate, but Linus Torvalds operates in a similar way.

    "I'm always right. This time I'm just even more right than usual." Torvalds, Linus (2005-07-14). Message to linux-kernel mailing list. Retrieved on 2006-08-28.

    "If you still don't like it, that's ok: that's why I'm boss. I simply know better than you do." Torvalds, Linus (1996-07-22). Post to comp.os.linux.advocacy newsgroup. Retrieved on 2006-08-28.

    This isn't comparable to what Gates is doing in the article. According to that Gates would tell everyone that their idea was "the dumbest fucking idea I've heard since I've been at Microsoft." and didn't really mean it. He was saying it simply to make the presenter defend their idea, not saying "you're wrong and we're not going to do it that way". In both of the above quotes Linus is seems to be saying that he's right and that they will be doing it his way.

    Linus could certainly be more tactful with how he worded those things, but I do note a distinct lack of cussing and (at the least) less drastic hyperbole. And how about some context to those quotes? On the second one at least I found you left off a bit before that that makes the whole thing much less worse than it sounds: "In short, at least give the penguin a fair viewing. If you still don't like it, that's ok: that's why I'm boss. I simply know better than you do." I don't think it's unreasonable for Linus to be taking that attitude about the mascot that will define the OS that he created. He was apparently listening to input on it anyway, more than you can say for most people in that situation.

  • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @05:34PM (#19013369) Journal
    You do realize that this is the attitude all bullies have? "They were clearly in the wrong. Its not my fault, they deserved it."

    No.

    What I realize is that bullies walk around with the sense that they are entitled to dominate people around them, and they attempt to surround themselves with people who will let them. They create auras of fear around themselves because they surround themselves with people who are afraid of them, and they wield these scared people to achieve more power.

    I realize that the bully exists in a state of fear, because they know they are riding the tiger and their strength rests in the tenuous state they have created. And those who surround them, regardless of how tough they seem, are there precisely because they are easily cowed and dominated by someone with a strong will and no fear.

    The whole thing is easily torn down if you possess an absolutely heartfelt failure to give a shit and a preparedness to push it as far as it needs to be pushed.

  • by jcr (53032) <.jcr. .at. .mac.com.> on Sunday May 06, 2007 @09:38PM (#19015517) Journal
    I disagree. The floods of cash they've made from catching IBM's fumble, and then applying illegal tactics to drive Lotus and Wordperfect out of business masked the fundamental problems that are now biting them on the ass.

    -jcr

  • Bullies (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Z34107 (925136) on Monday May 07, 2007 @12:58AM (#19016875)

    The appropriate thing to do when confronted with a bully is to either a) ignore them, or b) make everyone else see how wrong they are

    Dude, I totally agreed with that one kid when he said being drowned in a toilet at the wrong end of a swirlie was, well, wrong. Too bad a) ignoring things rarely fixes them and b) having everyone agree with you that getting beat up every day after school is wrong won't keep you from getting beat up after school.

    Violence is rarely a "good" solution to a problem, but that's not to say it can't solve problems, or that it never is a good solution to a problem. I guess I'm one of those silly folk who believe self-defense can be justified.

  • sounds familiar? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ClosedSource (238333) on Monday May 07, 2007 @01:37AM (#19017083)
    Bully? Disrespect for people's opinions that differ from his? Sounds like many of us hear on Slashdot.
  • by ClosedSource (238333) on Monday May 07, 2007 @01:45AM (#19017123)
    I think it's because many people who reach a high management position within a company didn't get there by placing the needs of the company before their own career. At that level it's more about politics and self-promotion than it is about performance. I'm sure that these difficult bosses are considered great guys by the people whose asses are being kissed.
  • Re:Shock and awe (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ClosedSource (238333) on Monday May 07, 2007 @02:30AM (#19017375)
    I think that asshole CEOs get more attention than equally successful CEOs with a decent personality, so it's easy to jump to the conlusion that being an asshole is a requirement for success. Both Gates and Jobs have made some major business blunders that were the direct result of their ego problems.
  • by jcr (53032) <.jcr. .at. .mac.com.> on Monday May 07, 2007 @03:08AM (#19017563) Journal
    That's not alpha-male management style, it's beta-male with something to prove management style. What you could also call the Napoleon complex. Bill Gates is a revenge-of-the-nerds type, who doesn't have the character to behave decently when he's in a position of power.

    -jcr

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