John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

To Kai-Fu Lee, Thanks for Everything


Kai-Fu Lee’s uneventful departure from Google to start a Beijing incubator really belies the spectacle that attended the beginning of his tenure at the search giant.

Lee’s train-hopping from Microsoft (MSFT) to Google (GOOG) back in 2005 touched off a five-month pitched battle marked by all manner of inanities. Among them was this account of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s now-infamous alleged chair-tossing tantrum told by former Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Mark Lucovsky:

Prior to joining Google, I set up a meeting on or about November 11, 2004 with Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer to discuss my planned departure…At some point in the conversation, Mr. Ballmer said: “Just tell me it’s not Google.” I told him it was Google.

At that point, Mr. Ballmer picked up a chair and threw it across the room hitting a table in his office. Mr. Ballmer then said: “F–king Eric Schmidt is a f–king p–sy. I’m going to f–king bury that guy, I have done it before, and I will do it again. I’m going to f–king kill Google.”

Thereafter, Mr. Ballmer resumed trying to persuade me to stay…Among other things, Mr. Ballmer told me that “Google’s not a real company. It’s a house of cards.”

And there were others as well. Certainly, the sourcing of some of Microsoft’s legal docs was amusing. As I wrote at the time:

Kai-Fu Lee may be a top-drawer research engineer, but his understanding of the mechanics of Microsoft’s desktop environment leaves a bit to be desired. Turns out Microsoft recovered Lee’s employment contract with Google, which figures prominently in its suit against the search leader (see “And, if you’re beaten by Microsoft thugs, our generous health plan will cover you”), from the “recycle bin” of one of Lee’s computers. Odd that Lee would choose to browse offers from his employer’s rivals on his work computer. Odder still that having done so, he would neglect to scrub them with a secure erase program. Clearly, he must have been a bit lightheaded after learning of Google’s promise to allow his stock options in the company to vest even if he was unable to start work for a year.

Then there was Lee’s testimony about a meeting with Bill Gates, during which the Microsoft chairman blew his top, shouting that the Chinese people and the Chinese government had “f—ked” Microsoft.

And, finally, there were the videotaped depositions, like one from Ballmer that included this great bit:

Ballmer: “Kai-Fu had a–a distinct commitment and responsibility on behalf of the company for being the senior executive here in Redmond, with responsibility for godfathering, shepherding all of our R&D activities in China. It’s a structure we also use for India. We have a senior executive with knowledge of India be the R&D godfather for India, encourage work to go there, shepherd, and–and mentor people in the area. Kai-Fu had that broad, important responsibility for China.”

Deposing lawyer: “This term, ‘godfather’–is that an official title within the Microsoft organization?”

Hard to believe Kai-Fu Lee’s tenure at Google China ended with such a whimper, although there are many quiet rumblings of trouble he had with Google’s top execs in Silicon Valley, given the bang it began with.

But it did. And here endeth the history lesson.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald