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October 26, 2011 at 6:30 AM

Former Microsoft exec Kai-Fu Lee writes about angry Ballmer, emotional Gates

Kai-Fu Lee.jpgKai-Fu Lee, the former Microsoft exec whose jumping of ship to Google in 2005 prompted suit and countersuit between the two companies, is back with a book in which he dishes about his former Redmond employer.

Lee wrote about his life — including his experiences at Microsoft — in a book called “Making a World of Difference” that was published in Chinese two years ago and was just released in English, available as an e-book from Amazon’s Kindle store, reports Jay Greene of CNET.

Microsoft declined to comment on Lee’s book.

Among the anecdotes Lee writes about, which Greene recounts, was an incident shortly after Steve Ballmer had become CEO and the company was still embroiled in its antitrust battles with the Department of Justice. Ballmer, according to Lee, apparently worked to change MIcrosoft’s image through using slogans such as “open but respectful” and “integrity and honesty.”

Lee wrote that at a meeting, a senior leader told Ballmer he was “hopelessly ashamed” of some of the company’s tactics, and that those in the room applauded. Ballmer, though, was angry, according to Lee, and said he would talk to Bill Gates. Gates came in the next day and got emotional, saying he had sacrificed his private life and family for the sake of “our industry, our users, and our company,” and said he continued working in order “to fight those who call us a selfish monopoly.”

According to Greene:

Lee writes that Gates became too emotional to continue, and cried. Ballmer joined his friend on stage and hugged him. But Lee sees the moment as contrived. He doesn’t dismiss Gates’ emotion. But he says it was “shrewd” of Ballmer to use Gates’ soul-bearing moment to diffuse legitimate concerns.

And Greene’s assessment of Lee’s book? Greene writes:

There’s little doubt that Lee has an ax to grind. He talked about the personal turmoil he went through during the legal battle. … Critics condemned him for breaching his noncompete agreement with Microsoft…. It’s jolting, then, when Lee writes at the end of the section of the book on the dispute with Microsoft that he harbors no ill will toward the company or its leadership. … The fact that he spends almost a quarter of the book criticizing Microsoft’s tactics would suggest otherwise.

Lee, a former Microsoft vice president, helped develop the company’s MSN Internet search technology, including desktop search software rivaling Google’s, according to The Associated Press.

In 2005, he left to run Google’s operations in China, prompting the lawsuit from Microsoft, which contended Lee’s job would violate a noncompete agreement that prohibited him from doing similar work for a rival for one year, according to the AP. Google countersued and the companies later reached a settlement, details of which were not disclosed.

After heading Google’s China operations for a time, Lee announced he would be creating a company that would finance high-tech startups in China.

(Photo of Kai-Fu Lee in 2009 from Business Wire)



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