He has spent more than 20 years living in Bill Gates’ shadow but since the publication of his autobiography, Idea Man, Microsoft co-founderPaul Allen is suddenly in the spotlight.
In the book he paints an unflattering picture of Bill who has donated billions to charity.
The “bitter billionaire”, as Paul (58) has been dubbed by the media, alleges Bill schemed behind his back to reduce his share of the software business – and did so while he was suffering from cancer in 1982. Paul left the company a year later.
In the book Paul describes his long-time friend as a slave driver who belittled his staff in public.
Bill Gates isn’t the only one criticised. In a recent interview – his first in years – Paul said Apple chiefSteve Jobs was “monomaniacal”, and he called Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page “evil”.
But he had the most to say about his former partner, whose confrontational style “gradually destroyed our friendship and ability to work together”.
No wonder Paul wasn’t there to blow out the candles on the cake when Microsoft celebrated its 36th birthday last month.
Paul was 14 and Bill 12 when they met at a private school in Seattle in the United States. Both were computer enthusiasts and they clicked immediately.
Bill had been competitive from an early age. He would sometimes knock the chess pieces off the board when he lost a game and became enraged when a trick he’d wanted to play on Paul went wrong.
In 1974 Paul came across an article about a personal computer, the Altair 8800, in the magazine Popular Electronics.
Bill was a student at Harvard University and Paul couldn’t get to him fast enough to show him the article. Bill was convinced they could write a software program for the computer – and they did. It was called Basic – and Paul persuaded his friend to drop his studies to found Microsoft a year later.
Paul says he also came up with the name of the company.
Paul kept up with the latest computer technology and Bill was the business brain behind the company. Sometimes Bill would work all night on software but was “socially maladroit” and ate chicken with a spoon, according to Paul.
In time their relationship began to sour. Bill wanted more shares in the company because he felt he was working harder and Paul gave in. Paul’s share shrank from 40 to 36 per cent.
In 1982 Paul was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and couldn’t do as much as he used to.
One day during his cancer battle he heard Bill and Microsoft’s chief executive officer, Steve Ballmer, arguing over how they could further reduce his shareholding.
It was the last straw; Paul burst into the office and shouted, “This is unbelievable! It shows your true character once and for all.”
They later apologised but Paul had had enough. In 1983 he left the company.
In the following years Microsoft’s share price rocketed and Paul became one of the world’s richest people. He apparently still owns 138 million Microsoft shares and has $13 billion (R91 billion) in the bank.
Microsoft’s success placed Bill in the limelight while Paul for the past 20 years has lived the life of a hermit.
“If someone runs into me at a party they have no idea if I’m just one of the guitar players in the band or if I’m the host,” Paul says.
Read all about Paul Allen in YOU, 21 May 2011.