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How I Became A Pawn In The War With Microsoft (And My Brother Got To Be A Knight)

June 6, 2013

I couldn’t believe what they were saying.

We’ve heard you are trying to poach accounts for Microsoft while you’re a WordPerfect employee. If you go to work for Microsoft we’ll sue Microsoft and we’ll sue you.

You have a 6-month non-compete and it’s our intention to enforce it.

The VP of HR; the corporate attorney; Dirk, the HR Manager over my department; Edward, the director over my department, and then there was me. I felt just slightly out numbered.

I hadn’t come completely unarmed. I pulled a document out of a folder that I’d brought with me.

I’m kind of surprised to hear that. When Dirk met with us back in August, he claimed. . .and let me read it so that I get it just right. . “If any of you come to us and say you want to go to work for Microsoft, we’ll let you out of this.”

Dirk visibly paled and then turned several shades of red and tried to sink deeper into the leather couch. The corporate attorney didn’t even flinch.

Can I see that?

She flipped through my typed comments on our August meeting and glanced at the Notary signature on the last page. She folded it back together and handed it to me.

I noticed you included a copy of the Non-compete agreement. You’ll note at the end it says, “This contract supersedes all other contracts and promises, written AND verbal.” Even if Dirk said that, and of course we are not agreeing that he did. But, IF he did, once you signed that agreement, it became the entire sum of your contract with WordPerfect.

Okay, evidently I hadn’t come armed with equivalent firepower. Looked like I’d brought a paper knife to a legal gun fight. But, they weren’t done.

During the next six months if you contact any current or former WordPerfect customers or employees, we will view that as a breach of the non-compete and we will sue you for damages.

That agreement says that if you lay me off, you have to pay me for those six months right?

True, but in our view, by volunteering for the layoff, you have voluntarily left our employment and we are not obligated to pay you. However, we don’t want to be unreasonable. We know you have a family to support, so we’ve decided we’ll go ahead and pay you for those six months. If you’ll just sign this paper, we can complete this today.

Okay, I didn’t have a lawyer back in August when I signed the non-compete, under duress as I later learned the term. But, I was certainly going to get a lawyer now.

I’ll go over it with my attorney and we’ll get back to you.

With that, Edward confiscated my keycard and escorted me back to my desk.

I’m really sorry, Rodney. I have to check your boxes before you leave.

Edward, I’ve known I was leaving for a couple of weeks. You’ve known that I was leaving for a week. Do you really think I’d wait until the last day to steal something?

He was appropriately embarrassed, but checked anyway.

My brother was also a member of the WordPerfect SWAT team. Which meant that he’d also been at that meeting back in August. He was also volunteering to leave as part of the layoffs.

Here’s where it got really weird. We were both under a non-compete. We were both leaving. I was being threatened with a lawsuit if I contacted any WP employees or customers. He on the other hand was leaving to go work for a WordPerfect partner. The sales group was loading him up with the names of WP customers in North Carolina: company names, email addresses, phone numbers. They were signing him up as a vendor.
He was going to become one more knight in the fight against Microsoft!

The double standard didn’t seem to phase them, if they even recognized it. I think they saw it as their opportunity to strike a blow against Microsoft. And if it screwed up my life for the next 6 months or more? Well sometimes you have to sacrifice a pawn here and there.
It was at this point that I also figured out some missing pieces of the puzzle. First off, that meeting in August, that just happened to fall on the day before I was flying off to Microsoft? I later learned it was all for my benefit. I didn’t tell anyone at WordPerfect I was going, but I did tell my mother. Who, of course told my sister. Who thought nothing of telling my brother. Who mentioned it to someone at work. And started a firestorm.

And the “poaching clients” claim eventually went away. Which was good since there was never a case there to begin with. I had called Allstate’s email administrator to tell him I was taking the Microsoft job. This wasn’t exactly news to him since he was one of the references on my resume. I also cancelled a site-visit planned for February. The WordPerfect sales rep for Allstate said, “Don’t worry about it, we’ll get IBM to come in.” The response from Allstate was “IBM doesn’t know our setup. We spend the whole time teaching their reps stuff. If Rodney can’t come we don’t want anyone.” That got just a little twisted in the retelling.

As the rumors swirled, with the Human Resources department doing their best to paint me as a traitor, a good friend said it best.

I heard that you were poaching clients. And I thought, if that’s true, our friendship is over. Then, I tried to think of how many times you had ever lied to me. Then, I thought about how many times HR had lied to me. That pretty much settled it in my mind.

Thanks, Jim.

There was just one final problem, I still had to talk to Microsoft. They were waiting for me to tell them my start date. Would they hold the position for six months? Would they still give me the $10,000 moving package? How much was WordPerfect’s hissy fit going to potentially cost me?

(This is the fourth of a five part series on Leaving Utah: How I left WordPerfect and Went to Microsoft. Part One described Saying No To Microsoft. Part Two explained What Happened to the Pop In the Break Room? Part three explained How NOT To Quit a Job. Part Five will show how expensive WordPerfect’s war on Microsoft was for me personally, and introduce one of the greatest managers I’ve ever known.)

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