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The Million Dollar T-Shirt

September 21, 2018

It was a fairly typical scene. Fans clammering for free t-shirts, as booth workers tossed them out as fast as they could pull them out of the stack of boxes.

We were at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. The home of the Seattle Mariners. But, we weren’t there for a baseball game. In fact, the number of people in the stadium that day was well below the 47,943 capacity. It was closer to 6,000.

I was there for a Microsoft company meeting. Microsoft held company meetings once per year. It was a a full day event. We had speakers and new product demos, as well as plenty of food and occasional alcoholic beverages. We also had plenty of SWAG handed out.

The t-shirts were pretty simple. They were white with a stylized American flag with computer monitors in the field of stars. Microsoft was locked into a battle with the Justice department.

The year was 1999. Microsoft was the big dog of the technology world. Google was still not even the biggest search engine, let alone the biggest IT company.

I was a technology guy, not really a business guy and certainly not a legal guy. Microsoft hadn’t really lost a battle in their history. They had knocked off the biggest companies in the history of IT. They beat IBM, although they didn’t kill it. They beat Novell, the leading network company. They beat WordPerfect, the leading word processor software company. They beat Borland, a leading programming language company. They beat Apple and then gave them $100M to not die. Microsoft was riding a pretty big winning streak.

And that made them arrogant. Steve Ballmer famously said, “We could put a ham sandwich in Windows if we wanted to.”

Eventually, Microsoft would lose to the Justice department. And eventually they would lose to Google and ultimately Apple.

But, in 1999, we were on top of the world. We were kings of the IT world. The Microsoft stock price was making many of us millionaries. And yet, we were still just a bunch of IT geeks clamoring for a free t-shirt.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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