The latest Ballmer basher: Microsoft's former OEM chief

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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