Pender's Blog

Blog archive

Why Is Paul Allen So Bitter?

There exists a story, supposedly true, about George Best, the late and legendary Northern Irish soccer player whose wild nights and hard living might have made even Charlie Sheen blush. It's a story about how the Irish have a certain contempt for, or maybe shame about, success -- especially among their own. (Don't ask us whether or not that contempt really exists; we're just retelling the story here.)

Anyway, it seems as though ol' George was in a hotel room in Dublin when he called room service. An Irish busboy rushed up to the room, only to find Best, um, relaxing with what we'd now call a supermodel, rolling around in a pile of money and swilling champagne. The busboy, rather than expressing delight over his countryman's obvious glee, simply dropped his head and said, "Oh, Georgie, where did it all go wrong?"

The story isn't exactly the same -- in fact, it's pretty different -- but the busboy's line was the first thing that came to mind when we read this week of Paul Allen's memoir, which apparently takes some nasty swipes at Bill Gates and even Steve Ballmer.

Allen left Microsoft in 1983 and then proceeded to collect massive bank, amassing enough money to allow him to buy the Seattle Seahawks, start a bunch of companies that mostly flopped and generally be a gentleman about town in the Pacific Northwest. Allen rolled in Microsoft money while Gates, Ballmer and those who didn't bail out early had to survive the (literal) trials of the turbulent 1990s and 2000s. Gates has largely redeemed himself with his awesome charity work, but there was a time when his name and Ballmer's were synonymous with evil among many in the business community and in the culture at large. (Here at RCPU, we've always been fans...but we digress.)

Paul Allen did what most of us wish we could do: get in on the ground floor of something and then parachute out before the really rough stuff kicks in. So, why is Allen so bitter? He's tried a couple of times now to sue pretty much the entire technology industry for patent violations, and now he's naming and shaming (or trying to, anyway) his former sugar daddies in some new book. Seriously, what's the deal, Mr. Allen? You've had 30 years to basically goof off, to start ventures -- none of which, from what we can remember, has been particularly successful -- with no real fear of risk or failure, and to live the life of a guy who cashed in on the American dream while frankly doing a fraction of the work that his former friends did to make Microsoft what it is today.

This sniping and backbiting is very unbecoming. Bill Gates is saving the world, Steve Ballmer is trying to save Microsoft, and you're wading in three decades later to tell us what bad dudes they really are? Paul, you're incredibly wealthy. You won at the game of life, at least from a financial perspective. How about a little more decorum? Seriously, Paulie, where did it all go wrong? We'd love to have problems like yours.

Posted by Lee Pender on April 01, 2011 at 11:57 AM