Nov. 15, 2001, was a nerve-wracking day for Brad Smith. That morning, the senior Microsoft lawyer received a phone call from CEO Steve Ballmer's assistant asking him to meet with Ballmer at 4:30 that afternoon. Smith knew what it was about.
During the previous four months, Smith had been through six grueling interviews--in true Microsoft form--vying for the company's coveted general counsel position. Microsoft was looking for the ideal candidate to fill the shoes of long-time GC Bill Neukom, who was retiring after 22 years with the company. And Smith was about to get his answer.
"Princeton was very appealing from the undergraduate studies perspective, and it had a manageable campus size for a kid from northeastern Wisconsin," he says.
At Princeton Smith attended the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, where he focused on international economics and political science. During the summer before his senior year, he traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to study and write his senior thesis on international refugee law at the United Nation's High Commission for Refugees.
But after only one week of being in London Smith learned about the Business Software Alliance. The trade association--created by six companies, one of which was the Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp.--was only in its infancy. Its mission was to call attention to software piracy, using litigation and outreach programs to enforce the rights of its members.
One of Covington's former associates, Doug Phillips, was the president of the association and asked Smith if he would be interested in writing an article about their Software Directive, a piece of European Union legislation that would harmonize copyright protection and software throughout Europe.
Covington agreed to consider Smith for partner in September 1993, and then allow him to take a leave of absence for two years to work for Microsoft, giving him the option to return to the firm if he wanted to.
"Covington was very supportive, even though it was a rather unusual thing to be voted on for partner knowing I would be leaving the firm a month later to join Microsoft," Smith says. "And Microsoft was equally supportive of the arrangement; although I think they knew once I got there I would never leave."
"For the kind of issues we are dealing with today--especially antitrust matters that have such a large impact not only on us but on other companies as well--it tends to be a more constructive path if you can get people in a room and find some common ground," Smith explains. "So when I started this job, one of the first things I did was pick up the phone, call these company executives and government officials, and then go out and see them."
Smith started with the government officials, such as California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, with whom Microsoft had been in a strongly adversarial position. Soon after Neukom inked the deal with the DOJ, the attorneys general accused Microsoft of engaging in unlawful monopolization and decided to go after the software giant on their own.
But Microsoft's troubles are far from over. The company is still battling it out with the European Union, which claims Microsoft abused its dominance to stifle competition and accused the software company of trying to squash competing audiovisual software by including its Media Player with the Windows desktop system. The EU demanded Microsoft either produce a version of Windows without the Media Player or incorporate rival programs into the package.
"A decade from now I want to be able to look back and see this as the first phase of the company's ongoing evolution," he says.