With Antitrust Suit Fading, Lead Microsoft Lawyer Makes Plans to Leave

William Neukom, executive vice president of law and corporate affairs at Microsoft, will retire next year to spend more time on philanthropy and with his grown children. He appeared to be a bumbling incompetent during Microsoft's trial with Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, when the sharp-tongued judge routinely ripped the company's executives to shreds. But Microsoft's impressive post-trial performance has since vindicated Neukom; the company has emerged largely unscathed from responsibility or damages, despite being found guilty of sweeping antitrust charges. Now 60, Neukom has worked for Microsoft since 1979, when the company had fewer than a dozen employees.

Referring to Microsoft's historic antitrust trial, Neukom recently said, "I like to avoid differences where I can, resolving things sooner rather than later. That we were not successful in finding common ground with Apple or Sun \[Microsystems\] earlier in that litigation, or with the \[Department of Justice--DOJ\] or the state plaintiffs, I regret that." When Neukom leaves Microsoft on June 30, 2002, Brad Smith, who is currently Neukom's deputy, will succeed him. Smith will oversee Microsoft's 200 lawyers and 400 other legal staff and will report directly to CEO Steve Ballmer.

Credited with Microsoft's many legal victories over the years, Neukom has long been one of Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates' top lieutenants, and his departure represents another step in the transition away from Gates' influence at the company. In recent years, many of the top executives Gates put in place have left the company, as the famous cofounder extracts himself from Microsoft's day-to-day operations to focus on far-reaching plans for the future. Indeed, Gates has often complained of fatigue from Microsoft's legal troubles and might soon retire himself if his largely ceremonial job as chief software architect doesn't rejuvenate his legendary competitive zeal.

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