Prologue - The Boardroom
They gathered in Bill’s boardroom. The meeting was, in some ways, nothing remarkable—just another high-level decision-making discussion aimed at resolving issues in the Company. However, two things made this a particularly memorable meeting. First, it occurred on Valentine’s Day. Second, and far more significantly, the single issue on the agenda was a highly risky, multi-billion dollar decision. If that decision went one way, then a year of time, resources, and dreams would have been wasted. If it went the other way, it would usher in a radical course change for the Company.
The Boardroom was not opulent, nor was it especially large. In fact, it was a singularly unprepossessing room for one of the richest and most powerful men in the world. The room was largely dominated by a rectangular table that could seat perhaps ten to twelve people. There was a large display screen at one end of the room, which could be enclosed in a cabinet when not in use. There were two doors along one wall, one at each end of the room, and two windows between them that looked into the bare walls of the main hallway. The windows sported drapes that could be closed as needed. The two other walls were bare. There was room for a few overflow chairs along the back wall.
Bill was late. The others were all there—a combination of brilliant visionaries and pragmatists, leaders all. Among the executive team members were Paul Maritz, Rick Belluzzo, Craig Mundie, Rick Rashid, Robbie Bach, Ed Fries, Rick Thompson, J Allard, and Steve Ballmer.
Bill Gates walked into the room at ten minutes past 4.
“This is a fucking insult to everything I’ve done at this company,” he said loudly and angrily, slamming the printed slide deck onto the table.
And so began the so-called Valentine’s Day Massacre at Microsoft. It was do or die, the moment of truth, the “go/no go” moment for Xbox. It didn’t start particularly well.