Allen Memoir Illuminates Early Relationship with Gates

Paul Allen’s new memoir Idea Man will not be released until later this month, but an early excerpt released in Vanity Fair has already generated significant buzz, mainly thanks to Allen’s portrayal of Bill Gates. The excerpt chronicles the relationship between Allen and Gates beginning in 1975 at Seattle’s Lakeside High School, and continues through the development of the company first dubbed “Micro-Soft”.
The passage concludes upon recounting the circumstances of Allen’s resignation from that company in 1983. Allen’s recollections shed light onto the working habits of Gates, starting from the first conclusions Allen drew about his future partner back in 1975.
“You could tell three things about Bill Gates pretty quickly,” he says. “He was really smart. He was really competitive; he wanted to show you how smart he was. And he was really, really persistent.”
The statement that has perhaps attracted the most attention and controversy comes later, when Allen recalls,
“I helped start the company and was still an active member of management, though limited by my illness, and now my partner and my colleague were scheming to rip me off.”
That particular situation involved Allen’s reaction upon overhearing Gates and manager Steve Ballmer, who were allegedly discussing Allen’s lack of productivity during radiation treatment for Hodgkin’s disease.
However, the context of the statement suggests that the particular sentiment was mostly a momentary one, later somewhat reconciled although Allen notes, “The incident had left a bad taste in my mouth.”
The conflict between the two is really described throughout the story in regards to their working natures, although Allen also describes the uncanny ability the two visionaries had to connect and collaborate.
One of the most defining quotes from the excerpt is from Gates, quoted from a letter written shortly after the incident that prompted Allen to feel he was being pushed out of a proper share. The letter said,
“During the last 14 years we have had numerous disagreements. However, I doubt any two partners have ever agreed on as much both in terms of specific decisions and their general idea of how to view things.”
Allen’s response: “Bill was right.”
Idea Man, set to hit shelves on April 19th, sheds light on the early personality of Bill Gates, some observations being humorous recollections of details like fashion choices and social mannerisms: “I have never in my life seen anyone eat chicken with a spoon,” Allen recalls his girlfriend saying after the three had dinner one night.
Other portions of the memoir recall a fierce, almost tyrannical side of Microsoft’s leader.
“He thrived on conflict and wasn’t shy about instigating it,” Allen recalls, describing heated, emotionally draining discussions and ridiculous work schedules.
Yet despite the so-called controversy surrounding the Vanity Fair preview, Allen’s memoir also describes the young Bill Gates in many positive ways.
From the start of the relationship, back at Lakeside, Bill Gates was recognized as being on a level of his own.
“I was decent in math,” Allen writes. “And Bill was brilliant.”
Allen describes Gates as having the brains and the ambition that allowed the company to take off. Another story recalls Gates at age 13: “What do you think it’s like to run a Fortune 500 company?” I said I had no idea. And Bill said, “Maybe we’ll have our own company someday.”
Still, Allen asserts his contributions as being vital to the founding of Microsoft, along with his role in balancing Gate’s harsh style in order to foster a functional progression of their young company.
In the end, Allen explains, the decision to leave was his. His radiation treatments for Hodgkin’s disease had changed his perspective and made it clear that functioning alongside Gates would not be possible forever.
“If I were to relapse, it would be pointless—if not hazardous—to return to the stresses at Microsoft,” Allen recalls. “If I continued to recover, I now understood that life was too short to spend it unhappily.”
Gates responded in a brief statement to the Wall Street Journal, which also published a portion of the memoir, saying, “While my recollection of many of these events may differ from Paul’s, I value his friendship and the important contributions he made to the world of technology and at Microsoft.”

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