The latest Ballmer basher: Microsoft's former OEM chief

The latest Ballmer basher: Microsoft's former OEM chief

Summary: Microsoft's former OEM chief Joachim Kempin -- who played a starring role in Microsoft's troubles with the U.S. Department of Justice -- has a book that reportedly takes shots at CEO Steve Ballmer.

TOPICS: Windows, Legal, Microsoft, PCs

There are plenty of critics of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer out there. Some think Ballmer's been too slow to react to market changes. Others think he's been too slow to get rid of problem employees. And then there are some who were the problem employees themselves...


Meet the latest Ballmer critic: Joachim Kempin. Kempin, for those who don't remember him, falls squarely into the group of "problem employees." Kempin definitely helped build Microsoft a software powerhouse. He is also one of the main employees whose actions landed Microsoft in hot water with the U.S. Department of Justice in the late 1990s.

Kempin left Microsoft 11 years ago. But he's back with a new book, entitled Resolve and Fortitude: Microsoft's "SECRET POWER BROKER" Breaks His Silence.

(If you're curious about the "secret power broker" part of the title -- or about Kempin's role in Microsoft's Department of Justice troubles -- I'd point you to an article I wrote about him in 1998, entitled "Who is Microsoft's Secret Power Broker.")

Kempin propelled the OEM division at Microsoft to become quite profitable. From my Kempin story:

"In fiscal 1997, ended June 30, Microsoft’s OEM group contributed $3.48 billion, or nearly one-third of the company’s total net revenues of $11.36 billion. Even though Microsoft’s financial gurus have warned Wall Street for years that the operating system market, at least for desktops, is close to tapped-out, the OEM division managed to grow its revenue contribution almost 40 percent, from $2.5 billion, in fiscal 1996."

Kempin and his group achieved this by pushing OEMs to license more and more Microsoft technologies and bundle them together to get better prices per copy for Windows. (OEMs don't seem to be the only ones he bullied, either, based on a hunting complaint filed against him in 2000.)

I haven't read Kempin's book (nor even an excerpt, given the Kindle version is available to Amazon UK customers only at this point.) But from the description, it seems, unsurpirsingly, his take of past events is different from what OEMs presented at the trial:

"Find out how much resolve, fortitude, and perseverance were needed to make that part of the PC revolution come true; what strategies were employed to win the Internet browser war; how IBM was beaten; what drove Apple to the brink of disaster; and how shady politicians and hapless competitors eventually goaded the Feds to ensnare Microsoft in a web of antitrust accusations."

After Kempin left Microsoft, there was -- and continues to be -- a revolving door among OEM chiefs at the company. With Microsoft now competing head-to-head with its OEMs, it's got to be an even more thankless job than usual.

Whether you're in the pro- or anti-Ballmer camp, it's always worth questioning the motives of anyone recounting an event. (I've learned this from sources over the years.) To those with an ax to grind, everything looks like a grindstone.

Topics: Windows, Legal, Microsoft, PCs


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • The latest Ballmer basher: Microsoft's former OEM chief

    Some people are jealous of those who are more successful than them. Like this guy doesn't have any skeletons in his closet. Bet he won't talk about that.
    • Wow

      Love my job, since I've been bringing in $5600… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online(Click on menu Home)

      Happy New Year!
    • A must read

      This is a must-read to educate people about the shady business world, using MS - a perfect example. So they both have lots of skeletons. Lets continue the house cleaning and get rid of ballmer too. He to is a remnant of the 'bad ol days' of MS.
      • RE: "Lets continue the house cleaning and get rid of ballmer too

        Any suggestions for a replacement? A current Microsoft employee, former Microsoft employee (but, probably NOT Mr. Joachim Kempin) or, perhaps, a modern-day Lou Gerstner, Jr.?
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • Ballmer should have gone ...... 4 years ago !!!!

          Ballmer laughed at the iPhone.

          Ballmer scoffed at the iPad, and said he sees nothing he wishes Microsoft should have done.

          It was this attitude that made Microsoft so late to market with Post-PC devices. Meanwhile, Ballmer released failed product after failed product. Zunes and Kins failed. Windows Mobile and Windows Phone failed. Now Surface RT has failed like the rest.

          The incredible part of this is that Ballmer is still there, still ruining Microsoft. He should have gone years ago.
          • Ballmer was right to laugh at the iphone 1

            $600 for a phone that didn't have 3G and didn't have apps. He said it would never be successful. It never was.

            Was it 3 months later that apple slashed the price? Can't remember the exact timing but it was very soon after the release. apple never drops their price on successful products. Even apple had to admit that the iphone they released, at the price they released it, was an utter failure.

            A year later they added 3G and apps. apple admitted that Ballmer was right. Why can't you?
          • Ballmer hasn't been right a single time in his entire career

            Even a stopped clock gets the time right twice a day.
            it isn't about ballmers skeletons in the closet, its someone else's he knows about.
            No one could be wrong so often and not have some serious bargaining material.
            Reality Bites
          • So which is it?

            "Ballmer hasn't been right a single time in his entire career"


            "Even a stopped clock gets the time right twice a day."

            Was Ballmer NEVER right or was he right on occasion, even if by accident?

            Even if he was right by accident, he WAS right about the iphone as it was on release day which is why anyone who brings that one up only ends up looking foolish themselves.
          • hey, you must have

            a Ballmer poster in you room.

            I really don't care what is written about him, but you...
          • You care at least a little

            "I really don't care what is written about him"

            Or you wouldn't have taken the time to read the comments and then reply.

            So when did you first realize that you cared about Ballmer?
          • Toddy is Ballmer . . .

            . . . Ballmer is Toddy!

            ewwwwwwww {spit, spit}
          • Huh?

            Except of course, that the notion that the iPhone wasn't a big success immediately, before the price cut, before 3G, and before apps, is absolute nonsense.
          • It's an interesting way of looking at it :)

            I'm sure he was also right about android :P... Curious why he couldn't make MS do the move faster than Apple, he seems an expert foreseeing what people really want :)
          • Anyway iPhone was never a failure... so far

            Obviously we have to make things relative... And yes the 2nd iPhone sold in 3 days what the 1st sold in 3 month (something like that).
          • Nope

            Wrong on all counts. The original iPhone sold like hotcakes. Once the production ramped up (with economies of scale) and Apple knew it had a mega-hit, then it was able to lower prices--and extract more money from AT&T.

            All the phones which had 3G and were cheap were DOA once the iPhone arrived. Remember the "awesome" phone festooned with lots o' buttons Balmer showed when he laughed at the iPhone?
            Me neither.
          • Oh Toddy!

            I prefer your "twists" to your outright lies about Apple. At least your twisted rants make me laugh. Why can't you admit to your secret lust to be Tim Cook's sex slave with remote controlled toys? They have Apps for that now!
          • Well said sir!

            WELL SAID.
          • Ed and ZDnet

            EDZDnet, are you trying to pass yourself as Ed Bott in an effort to create the illusion that all the Apple fan boys are right and not trolls?
          • Ballmer Arrogance His Downfall?

            Steve Ballmer's arrogance in the past has allowed him to miss judge competing products strength. That said Ballmer is focused on continuous improvement and innovation of current and new products. I wish him and Microsoft well.
          • You can't be serious

            While you are taking pot shots at the iPhone why don't you remind us of what a door stop the Windows Mobile platform had become at that time 100% due to Ballmer's lack of vision. MS *owned* the smart phone market and then the dancing monkey totally ignored everything other than the backoffice leaving a hole that Apple filled. The only thing that keeps Windows 8 phone alive these days is MS throwing in more cash, otherwise it would have died already. Ballmer should be let go without a golden parachute.