It was 25 years ago today — March 13, 1986 — that a personal-computer software company named Microsoft Corporation sold its shares publicly for the first time.

Fortune magazine is marking the moment by reprinting the in-depth piece that followed Bill Gates and other company executives as they went through the entire process, including details of Gates’ internal conflict over whether to take Microsoft public at all.

“Unlike its competitors, Microsoft was not dominated by venture capital investors hungry to harvest some of their gains,” explained writer Bro Uttal in the story. “The business gushed cash. With pretax profits running as high as 34% of revenues, Microsoft needed no outside money to expand. Most important, Gates values control of his time and his company more than personal wealth.”

Paul McNamara of NetworkWorld used the occasion to analyze 25 years of Microsoft stock trends.

“If you had the good fortune to have bought 100 shares at the $21 offering price that day and sat on the investment for 25 years, it would have mushroomed into 28,800 shares over the course of nine stock splits and be worth about three quarters of a million dollars today,” he wrote. “That’s the good news. Here’s the disheartening caveat: Had you instead sold your stash on Dec. 1, 1999, when Microsoft’s stock price reached its peak, you would have reaped $1.4 million.”

For more context, here’s a piece from the “History of Microsoft” series by Microsoft’s Channel 9 site, looking back on the year 1986 at the company.

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  • Guest

    15 years of growth, 10 years of decline.

    • Confused

      seriously. I was there from 96-03. up to about 2001, it was fun. The money was amazing. Now, you work for your pro club membership and a few bonuses – like pirating company store purchased software.

    • Justin Hassler

      If stock price is all you’re looking at, sure.

      • Top Scientist

        It hardly matters what you look at. Balmer has turned the company into a hidebound bureaucracy that can’t get out of its own way.

        • Ex-Softy

          Agreed, the bureaucracy is the biggest road block at that company as it is with any big company I suppose.  I was there from 2000 – 2003 as an FTE and 2003 – 2005 as a contractor.  Your direct manager changed so often that you can’t help but get frustrated and look at your work a just another cog in the corporate wheel.  You become so beaten down with adherence to performance metrics that any idea or thought process that isn’t designed at improving the metrics gets shot down or outright “borrowed” by a mid-level manager.  

          It has become another “good ol boys” network made up of Mid-Level manager trying to save their own behinds.    

  • Naryan

    I agree, there doesn’t seem to be any life in the company now that Ballmer has taken over.

    And why did they put up a picture of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time?  It released 12 years  after 1986.

  • Naryan

    I agree, there doesn’t seem to be any life in the company now that Ballmer has taken over.

    And why did they put up a picture of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time?  It released 12 years  after 1986.

  • Foo

    The Microsoft Employee Motto:  What Can I Do To You Today, To Make Myself Look Better Tomorrow”

    Sad Indeed.

  • Monkey D Black

    Nobody seems to remember the DOJ and what they did to the company, or the EU since recently. you can’t grow when you’re restricted.

    why don’t you check when the DOJ stepped on Microsoft and see the decline after that.

    • RJ

      I’ve been at the company since ’96 and I’m still there, although I’ll be gone in 2012. The DOJ had absolutely nothing to do with Microsoft’s decline — it’s entirely due to Ballmer becoming CEO. Seriously, 100%. Ballmer is a sales dude who doesn’t understand technology at all, and the executive culture he’s created over the last decade has turned the company into a sales organization instead of a tech company. You see it in the people he brings in to lead (e.g., Kevin Turner) and you see it in the review system we have (e.g., cut the bottom 10% each year).

      Ballmer was a disaster for the company, and it’s not going to recover until he goes and is replaced with someone who has tech credibility.

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