- This is an iconic portrait of Microsoft’s first 11 employees, dating back to 1978.
- Despite their looks here, most of the Microsofties went on to become millionaires.
- Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates went on to become the second-richest person on the planet.
- Paul Allen, his friend and fellow cofounder, passed away in October 2018 after a battle with cancer.
- Here’s what happened to all of them.
It’s one of the most iconic photos in American business.
A ragtag group assembled for a family portrait in Albuquerque.
If you see it on Facebook or LinkedIn, there’s usually a question above the photo: “Would you have invested?”
It’s a trick question. You’re supposed to answer no – because, well, look at those people – but then you learn it’s a company portrait of Microsoft from 1978.
Early employee Bob Greenberg, pictured in the middle, won a free portrait after calling in to a radio show and guessing the name of an assassinated president. The gang reluctantly gathered together in some of their finest attire, and an American business legend was made.
We all know what happened with the two guys in the bottom left and bottom right corners - Bill Gates and Paul Allen, who both became billionaire philanthropists and tycoons. But what about the rest, many of whom became millionaires in their own right?
In the wake of Paul Allen's untimely death at age 65 in October 2018, we thought it would be a good time to take another look back.
This is an update of a post originally written by Jay Yarow in 2011.
Bill Gates is now giving away the billions he made from Microsoft
We all know what happened with this guy. Bill Gates founded and built Microsoft from nothing into the most valuable technology company in the world. Along the way, he became the second richest man in the world, and is now giving is fortune away to all kinds of good causes.
Andrea Lewis became a fiction writer and freelance journalist
Andrea Lewis was the only person at the company from Albuquerque. She was a technical writer for Microsoft, which means she wrote documents explaining Microsoft's software. She left Microsoft in 1983, eventually becoming a freelance journalist and fiction writer. She co-owns the Hugo House, a literary center in Seattle.
Maria Wood sued Microsoft just two years later
Maria Wood was a bookkeeper for Microsoft and married to another one of the early employees in the picture. She left the company just two years later, suing it over sex discrimination. Microsoft settled the case. After that, she vanished from the public eye, raising her children and volunteering for good causes.
Paul Allen spent his billions on sports teams, startups, and much more — before passing away after a battle with cancer
Paul Allen, the other Microsoft cofounder, passed away in October 2018 after a battle with cancer.
After Bill Gates, Allen was the most famous guy in the group. He was the 44th richest person in the world according to Forbes. He owned the Portland Trailblazers, the Seattle Seahawks, one of the biggest yachts in the world, and much more. Plus, he was a major philanthropist, giving away billions to charitable causes.
Bob O'Rear went on to be a cattle rancher
Bob O'Rear was one of the oldest employees at Microsoft. He was at NASA in Mission Control when we landed on the moon. At Microsoft he was a chief mathematician, and he's credited with reworking code in DOS and getting it onto IBM PCs. He left the company in 1993, moved back to his home state of Texas, and got into cattle ranching.
Bob Greenberg left Microsoft, then worked on the Cabbage Patch Kids
Bob Greenberg was the guy who won a radio call-in contest to get the photo. He left Microsoft in 1981, after helping the company develop a new version of the programming language BASIC. He went on to help his family's company, Coleco, develop the Cabbage Patch Kid dolls, which became a huge hit. As of 2008, he's said to have been working on golf course software.
Marc McDonald left Microsoft because it was getting big, but ended up back at the company anyway
Marc McDonald was the first salaried employee. He left in 1984 because he didn't like how big the company was getting. After leaving Microsoft, he went to another Paul Allen-led company, Asymetrix. He then went to the Seattle software company Design Intelligence, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2000 - so he ended up back at Microsoft. In 2011, he left Microsoft for the second time, and worked at advertising startup PaperG until 2016.
Gordon Letwin stayed with Microsoft longer than anyone other than Bill Gates
Gordon Letwin was with the company until 1993, the second-longest run of all the employees pictured. (Gates is first.) He was a programmer at Microsoft, and he quit when he wanted a break from the grind of the company. He was a millionaire by the time he left Microsoft. Now Letwin has a ranch in Arizona and runs the environmental charity Wilburforce Foundation with his wife, Rose.
Steve Wood went on to become a serial entrepreneur
Steve Wood is the husband of Maria Wood, also in this photo, who eventually left Microsoft and sued it over sex discrimination. Steve left in 1980, but worked with Paul Allen on a few companies afterward - including web development company Starwave, which was ultimately sold to Disney.
Bob Wallace was a fan of researching psychedelic drugs and founded a software company after Microsoft
It seems Bob Wallace was one of the most far-out early Microsoft employees. He spent time and money researching psychedelic drugs after leaving the company. He also founded a software company called Quicksoft. He died in 2002 from pneumonia.
Jim Lane went on to create his own software company
Jim Lane was a project manager who left in 1985. Legend has it that he announced his departure by saying that Microsoft "beat the enthusiasm out of me." He went on to start his own software company. At Microsoft, he helped create the company's crucial partnership with Intel, which played a huge role in the company's ability to dominate the PC industry.
Here's one more look at the gang from 1978 ...
... and here's a photo of the group from 2008 that Microsoft recreated when Bill Gates was leaving the company.
Since then, Gates gave up the CEO job to Microsoft's 30th employee, Steve Ballmer, who joined in 1980. Ballmer turned the reins over to Satya Nadella in 2014. Of the original employees, only Gates is still at Microsoft, acting as a member of its board of directors and a technical advisor to Nadella.
On a final note, Bill Gates seems to enjoy recreating pictures — like this 2016 recreation of his 1973 high school yearbook photo, perfect down to the sneakers.