A Nod to My Man 'Bill'

As a baseball fan, I was pleased to hear the recent news that William H. "Bill" Neukom, former chief counsel at Microsoft during the company's formative years, will be assuming the role of managing general partner of the San Francisco Giants. I met Mr. Neukom several years ago when he would visit Washington to put a face on Microsoft's then-fledgling D.C. lobbying effort. And I later saw him daily in court as he led Microsoft's landmark antitrust battle with the U.S. government.

Now the tall lefthander--Neukom stands about 6 feet 4 inches--will be at the helm of the baseball team of his youth, having long held a partnership stake in the organization. Neukom grew up in San Mateo, Calif., came east to college at Dartmouth and then returned to his native West Coast to attend law school at Stanford. But I mostly remember him from the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse, which is located at 3rd St. and Constitution Ave. in northwest Washington, D.C. I remember the address well because I had to give it to taxi drivers every morning before court when I covered the trial. I recall the stately Neukom sitting at the head of the Microsoft legal table sporting his trademark bow ties--and also later on the courthouse steps as both Microsoft and the government held mini press conferences after each day's proceedings.

As Executive Vice President of Law and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft, Neukom was at times viewed as unyielding in his approach to serving the company, which he typically referred to as "the client." But he prevailed when it mattered most. His defense prevailed in the face of a federal judge's order to break up Microsoft. And he was instrumental in securing a legal victory in the Apple Computer v. Microsoft case, which spanned 1988-1995. I liked the never-say-die style of Neukom's tenure. But those were more formative years, particularly the Apple case, when the company had to fight its way out of a corner. Now Microsoft is more of a spend-and-settle company.

In any event, one of the best parts of covering technology in Washington back in the late '90s was meeting the Microsoft legal machine. In a former journalistic life my then-colleague--now current colleague--Joe Wilcox and I would tag-team some of the Microsoft attorneys for some very interesting interviews. Among the most enjoyable for me was Neukom because he was as tight-lipped as they came and getting him to say anything on the record was a challenge. However, I did manage to get Neukom talking a bit for an interview just before he left Microsoft.

My favorite Neukom memory is that on cold Washington winter days he would take his place on the courthouse steps sporting a cool cashmere coat, which I barely even noticed until it was pointed out to me. One day while Microsoft's PR guy was churning on about how it had been "another good day for Microsoft," I agreed out loud to another reporter that indeed it had been (as it wasn't always). The reporter blurted out: "That's just because you love Neukom and you want Microsoft to win. I bet you wish you could go hold his fancy coat for him!" As much as that comment was dripping with all kinds of wrongness, I had to laugh and I still joke with that reporter about it.

Neukom is a busy man. He is a partner at the K&L Gates law firm, president of the American Bar Association and now also will assume the role of managing general partner of the San Francisco Giants.

In a brief exchange with Neukom since this news broke, I asked him if he missed high-tech. "I miss the people at Microsoft but am looking forward to this new chapter," he said, noting that his tenure won't actually begin until Oct. 1, after Giants majority owner and managing partner Peter Magowan steps down.

Neukom knew I was a Giants fan because he'd seen me in an SF Giants baseball cap, and we chatted baseball a bit. I was digging the SF team at the time. I have respect for the organization and its rich history, although I first give love to my hometown Orioles. Ironically, the Orioles are currently owned by a super lawyer, Peter Angelos, and were at one time owned by super-duper lawyer Edward Bennett Williams--who over the years represented high-profile clients such as Frank Sinatra, financier Robert Vesco, Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, spy Igor Melekh, Jimmy Hoffa, organized crime figure Frank Costello, U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Michael Milken, and U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. In 1983 the Orioles won the World Series under Williams. Perhaps Neukom can bring the same kind of aura to the Giants.