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Microsoft’s Financial Analyst Meeting (or FAM as they called it) used to happen one week to the day after the company reported its fiscal year-end earnings in July. It was always one of the most interesting events on the Microsoft calendar for press and financial analysts.But the company just announced on its earnings call that the FAM as we know it is dead. Instead, it will be combined with the larger Professional Developers Conference happening in mid-September in Anaheim, California.
That’s a shame.
FAM wasn’t just about finances. It was the one time of year when Microsoft gave outsiders a glimpse into the intangible things that make the company special.
First, the timing showed off the Pacific Northwest and the Microsoft campus at its absolute best. Seattle doesn’t get nice very often, but when it does there’s no more beautiful natural setting in the world — 200-foot-tall evergreen trees, glacier-capped mountains, dark blue water. Seattle natives got to hear all the analysts complain about the sweltering heat in New York. (My answer to them: Seattle gets about 10 days of blue sky from November through March. It’s not worth it.)
More important, it was the one event per year where top-level Microsoft executives would mingle freely with financial analysts and invited press. Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates (back when he was a full-time Microsoftie) would wander the halls followed by satellite clusters of onlookers, all pestering them with questions. Everything outside the formal sessions was off the record, so Ballmer could answer with the full force of his personality. “That’s cra-a-a-zy!” was not an uncommon response.
Tier-two execs — who still controlled thousands of employees and businesses worth billions of dollars — were often totally accessible. Friendly. Happy to talk. (Off the record.)
It was also the one time of year when Gates, Ballmer, and the leaders of Microsoft’s product units would reassure the world that Microsoft had competent managers and a companywide vision for the coming fiscal year. Products were unveiled. The research group got a chance to show off what it had been working on.
There were always a few groaners– did Microsoft really expect to make billions from online advertising by 2010? — but how many other companies were so open about all their plans, even once a year?
Plus they had macaroni and cheese with truffle oil on the lunch buffet. Every year.
There always seemed something a little symbolic about that truffle oil. Microsoft may have ruled the world, but the analysts talking to institutional investors who controlled millions of Microsoft shares? They were special too.
But last year, the company changed FAM dramatically. Only four leaders spoke — Ballmer, COO Kevin Turner, CFO Peter Klein, and CTO Craig Mundie. There was no news. No opportunity for business leaders to speak. A much smaller press list.
There will still be a FAM this year, but putting it way after the end of the fiscal year and moving it to Anaheim changes its character entirely. It won’t be about the company’s plans for the fiscal year. It won’t be a five-minute walk for any Microsoft exec to drop by from his or her office. It won’t show off Microsoft’s campus in all its glory. It won’t give any sense of what the company is REALLY like.
Truffle oil? We’ll see.