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I Don’t Even Want To Know How Much That Just Cost Me

June 7, 2013

Microsoft recruiting, this is Heather.

Heather, this is Rodney Bliss. I’ve got a small problem.

Oh?

You know that non-compete that WordPerfect made me sign back in August?

Yeah. Like I said, those aren’t really enforceable. No one ever holds you to those.

WordPerfect just told me they intend to.

Intend to what?

I had to convince Heather that a multi-million dollar company really was threatening to sue a multi-billion dollar company if they hired a particular glorified support operator. If I hadn’t been in the middle of it, I would not have believed it either.

After days of back and forth phone calls, meetings with attorneys, some arguing over where the commas were going to be placed in my separation agreement, I found myself back on the phone with Heather.

I’m so sorry. I had no idea they would try this. I’ve talked to several people here. We just cannot hold a position for six months. I’m afraid we are going to have to withdraw our offer. You are welcome to apply again in six months, but we can’t guarantee there will be a position. I’m really sorry.

Yeah, so was I. A starting salary of $39,000, 1200 stock options, a $10,000 moving package; all gone.

Now I had a decision to make. I was leaving WordPerfect. THAT bridge was burned and the ashes scattered. But, what to do? I figured I had two choices: accept it, or fight it.

My first tendency was to fight it. I had to get an attorney to help me leave WordPerfect. If I sued them, I’d probably win. But, even if I won the lawsuit, the offer from Microsoft was no longer on the table. I’d win, but I wasn’t sure exactly what if anything that would gain me.

If I accepted the separation agreement, I could move right away. I’d miss out on the Microsoft moving package, but with the severance packages we had, there was plenty of money to pay for a move to Washington. I could wait it out in the Redmond area and apply to Microsoft again. They had offered me jobs each time I asked them. I was pretty sure they’d still want me. . .if they had a spot open.

After a lot of discussion and prayer, we decided to take the separation agreement and take our chances with a position at Microsoft opening up. Honestly the hardest part was realizing that WordPerfect Human Resources had done wrong and they were getting away with it. But, I realized I didn’t need to “fix” their problems. My main concern was my wife and two little girls. That’s where my focus needed to be.

So, we packed our gear and headed North.

I had at least six months before I could apply to Microsoft. What to do?

We spent the first month being on vacation. We drove around the Olympic peninsula, stopping at Dungeness Spit, Sequim and other places with unpronounceable names. We toured the Seattle Underground. Fascinating. We went to the Pacific Science Center and watched the sunset from the spinning restaurant on the top of the Space Needle.
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(Photo credit blakeandsarah.wordpress.com)

And then we got bored.

So, we decided to try consulting. Purple Crayon Club consulting was born. And almost as quickly we were mistaken for a day care.
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(I didn’t care, I still like the name.)

I was an expert on WordPerfect’s email program. But, WordPerfect had threatened to sue me if I contacted any WordPerfect customers. I decided to risk it. I was 1000 miles away and I was helping WP customers. Of course, I also wasn’t planning on telling Corporate. (Learned that lesson the hard way.) If they found out, let them sue me. I figured I could win that one easily.

My brother also left WP in the layoffs. On his way out the door to go work for a WP partner in North Carolina, WordPerfect offered him as much help as they could. I now found myself doing work very similar to what he was doing, with a couple of significant differences.

WordPerfect was helping him get clients.
WordPerfect was sending me a paycheck every month.

The irony was amusing to both of us. Considering I was getting paid to NOT work, we agreed I had the better deal.

In the mean time, I had this worry in the back of my mind about what was going to happen in July when the WordPerfect checks stopped coming. Being “self-employed” is easy when you are getting a paycheck every month. I wasn’t sure I trusted my consulting business to be our sole means of income. I needn’t have worried. After a couple of months I got a phone call.

Rodney? This is David Ladd with Microsoft Support.

Hey. Are you still going to have a spot for me in July?

Don’t worry about it. I don’t care if it’s 6 weeks or 6 months. I want you on my team and I can’t tell you this officially, but there will be a spot for you. Call me when you are getting close to being eligible.

Dave was one of the very best managers I ever worked for.

While I was waiting in Washington, it became clear why WordPerfect quit providing free drinks, and did layoffs. In the Spring of 1994 Novell announced they were “merging” with WP. Actually, Novell was buying WP for a half billion dollars and would quickly layoff the bulk of the employees and sell off most of the intellectual property. But, in the Spring it was a “merger.”

My timing isn’t always good, but in this case it could not have been better.

Finally, July rolled around and I quietly became a part of Microsoft.
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Well, that was the plan anyway. The drama of the past 6 months had really sapped any enthusiasm I had for being noticed. I just wanted to blend in. It didn’t quite work out that way.

At the end of my second day I got into the elevator and nodded a greeting to the gentleman standing by the floor selector.

I’m Sam Jadallah, Director of Support. Are you new? I know most people in the building.

Yeah, I just came from WordPerfect.

Oh, YOU’RE the one.

He later told me that Microsoft had meetings at the Vice President level to try to decide whether to hire me and risk a lawsuit, even though they were sure they’d win. At the time, Microsoft was embroiled in the Apple “look-and-feel” lawsuit and they decided they didn’t want to take on another potential court case.

So, all’s well that ends well, right? I had my job at Microsoft, where I’d stay for nearly a decade. My wife was running our profitable consulting business (still consulting on WP products.) There was just one slight detail that even 20 years later forces me to willingly deceive myself.

Remember that offer from January; $39,000 and 1200 stock options? In July, Microsoft made me the exact same offer. I’d lost the lucrative moving package, of course. But, the real problem was that during the summer, Microsoft stock had increased by $50/share and split. So, the July offer was half as many options at a $50 higher price. By the time I left Microsoft 9 years later, that stock grant had split multiple times and the strike price was mere pennies while Microsoft stock was selling for $60/share.
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I’ve never gone back and figured out exactly how much WordPerfect’s little power play cost me in lost stock value, but it’s easily in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Some lessons are just too painful to calculate.

(This is the fifth 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 Four explained how I Became a Pawn In The War With Microsoft.)

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