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.