Why every Microsoft employee in the 1990s was obsessed with the stock market

Steve BallmerMark J. Terrill/APFormer Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer displaying his trademark passion.

Back in the early nineties, Microsoft’s star was rapidly rising.

Thanks to the success of Windows 3.0, Microsoft was able to push its Microsoft Office productivity suite into all kinds of businesses. Microsoft Word quickly gained ground on Corel WordPerfect, and Excel was starting to push out Lotus 1-2-3 — in other words, there was nowhere to go but up.

It was an exciting time for Microsoft, says Julia Weed, who worked as a Product Manager at Microsoft from 1990 to 1995, and who wrote a book about her experiences there called “All I Really Need To Know in Business I learned at Microsoft.”

“Those were the days when we overtook the leaders,” Weed told Business Insider.

But nobody was more excited about Microsoft’s future than the people who worked there — since everybody was given stock in the company, everyone from top executives down to lowly administrative assistants had very ,very strong opinions on Microsoft’s strategy, Weed says.

One of her former colleagues had an Excel spreadsheet that would calculate the ideal time for them to cash out, taking into account the rate of stock price growth.

“People had dreams based on it,” Weed says.

Another “Softie” cashed out as soon as he could pay his student loans. This was actually a mistake, in hindsight, Weed says, because if he had held on to his shares, he would have had enough to pay for his loans and a lot more besides.

Satya Nadella MicrosoftAPMicrosoft CEO Satya Nadella

There was a major advantage to this obsession with the stock price, Weed says: It meant that nobody was stingy with their time or talent. Managers were never stingy about lending out their top performers to other teams, because better software meant a higher stock price.

“It was just a fun place to work,” Weed says.

Weed actually met her husband during her time at Microsoft: He worked on a different team, reporting to future CEO Steve Ballmer. And Ballmer’s famous passion — he was known for his “freakouts” on stage at Microsoft partner events — carried over to his dealings with employees.

Ballmer, apparently, had a penchant for repeating the same thing three times and pumping his fist in the air at team meetings: “Windows, Windows, Windows!” and “Marketshare, marketshare, marketshare!”

That kind of passion carried over to everyone in the company, Weed says. She and her husband would work all day, go to the Microsoft cafeteria together for dinner, and then continue working late into the night. Once, a janitor busted them on one of their late-night work dates — “Is this your idea of a hot date?” he teased them.

With Microsoft’s renewed focus on making software that people actually want to use, including the new Windows 10, it seems clear that CEO Satya Nadella is looking to revisit a time in the company when employees are this passionate about their work. Of course, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella may never see the company hit those same high points. But we’ve heard from current Microsoft employees that under his reign, he’s put some initiatives in place, like opening the door to open source, that have employees energised.

These days, Weed works as a freelance business reporter, covering the marijuana industry for Forbes. Her 1997 book “All I Really Need To Know in Business I learned at Microsoft” is available for Amazon Kindle and other eBook readers.

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