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Sunday, September 27, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Many Faces Of Jeff Raikes -- Farm Kid. Computer Geek. Salesman. Millionaire. Gangsta Rapper. Nice Guy. And Now, Big Man On Microsoft's Campus.

Seattle Times Business Reporter

To U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, Jeff Raikes symbolizes the bloodthirsty competitiveness of Microsoft.

When Jackson rejected Microsoft's efforts to dismiss the federal government's antitrust case two weeks ago, he cited a memo Raikes wrote about Microsoft's competitor, Netscape Communications.

Raikes wrote: "Netscape pollution must be eradicated."

Pretty harsh stuff, unless you have a sense of humor.

The phrase comes from a rap-video parody Raikes made for a Microsoft sales meeting. In the video send-up of Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise," Raikes, dressed as a paramilitary Guardian Angel, sings: "Been working most our lives getting to a Window's paradise." He patrols the streets, protecting the masses from competitors' software products.

Justice Department lawyers didn't get the joke when they cited it in their lawsuit. Jackson didn't find much humor in it, either.

But it's vintage Raikes. The affable Nebraskan is willing to make fun of himself to motivate Microsoft's sales force. He shook his head at the thought of Jackson citing lyrics of the parody as an example of Microsoft's overzealous competitiveness.

"Lawyers don't run sales forces," Raikes said.

Raikes, 40, who ran Microsoft's North American sales force for the last six years, was promoted in July to head the software company's worldwide sales team. It was another sign that the 17-year Microsoft veteran's star is rising quickly.

In 1996, Raikes joined Microsoft's eight-man executive committee, the inner circle of founder Bill Gates that is largely responsible for Microsoft strategy. Of the group, only Steve Ballmer, whose job Raikes assumed after Ballmer was tapped as Microsoft president, and Gates have more tenure. And only Ballmer and Gates have run larger corporate divisions than Raikes.

In his new job, Raikes controls the sales operations for a $14.5 billion company that has grown 12-fold since the beginning of the decade.

But as rapidly as sales have grown, the pace is slowing. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, sales growth slowed to 28 percent a year, off from the more than 50 percent annual growth rate at the beginning of the decade.

At the same time, Microsoft faces a prolonged battle with the Justice Department, which has accused the company of illegally using its computer operating-system dominance to seize business in other markets.

With a fairly stable base of customers using its software, Microsoft must persuade businesses to switch to its relatively new line of computer servers, the brains behind corporate computer systems. That responsibility now falls to Raikes, who cut his teeth first at Apple Computer then at Microsoft developing and marketing spreadsheet and word-processing software.

These days, Raikes jets around the world preaching the Microsoft gospel. Earlier this month, he flew to Chile, then detoured to the Midwest before returning to Redmond.

He's known for relentlessly pursuing business. A year ago, for example, he convinced KPMG Peat Marwick to award a huge contract to Microsoft after the giant accounting firm initially planned to do business with Netscape.

It's that ability to win business that's made Raikes a success at sales.

"Jeff has an incredibly close relationship with our customers," Ballmer said.

Spreadsheet love

This isn't where Raikes thought he'd be when he left the Nebraska plains for Stanford University in 1976. He always expected to move back to rural Nebraska. His plan was to get a degree so he could land a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Raikes learned about computing at Stanford because he wanted to help his brother, Ron, who was running the family farm. The brothers bought an Apple II, and Raikes programmed the machine to handle the farm's accounting. That's when he caught the "computing bug."

Raikes quickly learned to manipulate VisiCalc, the first computer spreadsheet program, coaxing it to perform complex economic modeling. When Apple came to Stanford to recruit, Raikes signed on.

"I just fell in love with a spreadsheet and what it could do," Raikes said. "People would come to me with what they thought was an insolvable problem. It was like a puzzle to me."

Raikes' first job was managing VisiCalc applications for Apple. Before VisiCalc, personal computers were largely toys for hobbyists. VisiCalc was the first software program that prompted computer sales. It gave small businesses and middle managers the power to do complex accounting that only large, expensive mainframe computers had been able to do. VisiCalc was the computer industry's first "killer application," before the phrase even existed.

Raikes thought that if he could get businesses hooked on VisiCalc, companies would have to buy Apples. He became one of the most proficient VisiCalc users. He developed a critical path model - used to evaluate and manage large projects - using the program.

"We were impressed that he could do that," said Bob Frankston, who wrote the VisiCalc code. "We hadn't even thought about that use. He had the technological skills and the imagination to just do it."

That got Raikes thinking that making computers wasn't nearly as interesting as making the products that people use to run their machines.

"It got me to see what I really loved was software," Raikes said.

At that time, Raikes had a sister who lived in Seattle. During a visit, he interviewed with a small start-up software company named Microsoft. By November 1981, he was a Microsoft employee. Apple founder Steve Jobs tried to talk him out of leaving.

"Jobs called me up and told me how Microsoft was going to go out of business," Raikes said.

Nearly two decades later, Apple is the company that's reeling. As smart a move as it turned out to be, Raikes concedes that he had no great insight into the computer industry's future.

"I was going with my heart," Raikes said.

A gearhead runs sales

In many ways, Raikes is an unlikely choice to run Microsoft's sales operations. His training is in software development. His schooling is in engineering and economics.

Raikes initially was hesitant when Gates turned to him in 1992 on a flight from Boston and asked him to replace Scott Oki as senior vice president of U.S. sales. For a lifelong gearhead, sales didn't seem all that interesting.

But with Raikes at the helm, Microsoft's North American sales have quadrupled to $4.4 billion in the fiscal year that ended in June (that total doesn't include sales to computer makers). Raikes credits his technology background. He tries to go beyond meeting chief executives or even chief information officers. Instead, he wants to spend time with the information-services staff, fellow techies.

"I want to have credibility with the technology lieutenant," he said.

Raikes also had to learn how to motivate Microsoft's vast sales staff, something software developers don't spend much time doing. But Raikes has always been a bit of a ham. As a teenager, he won the Nebraska one-act competition, a drama contest pitting him and a classmate against students from schools throughout the state.

These days his music-video parodies are shown at Microsoft's national sales meetings, annual pep rallies to get the 6,000-person sales staff pumped up to hawk Microsoft products. The videos, shameless promotions of Microsoft products, encourage the sales staff to crush the competition.

He followed the "Window's Paradise" video with a send-up of Will Smith's "Force in Black" from the movie "Men in Black" last year. Wearing a black suit and wraparound sunglasses, Raikes raps, "We're the first, last and best line of defense against the worst scum in the industry."

This year, after turning over U.S. sales operations to Orlando Ayala, Raikes and Ayala parodied the soundtrack to this summer's "The Mask of Zorro." Raikes plays the Anthony Hopkins role of the old Zorro, who turns over his responsibility of battling evil to the new Zorro, the Antonio Banderas role played in the video by Ayala.

"Generally, my first two or three years in the sales meetings, I did a pretty good job, but I wasn't great," Raikes said. "I think I've gone from being mediocre at motivating the sales force to being very good at it."

Wearing down opponents

Jeffrey Scott Raikes was born May 29, 1958, the youngest of five children. His father, Ralph, worked in the 1920s as a chemical engineer for the one-time monopoly, Standard Oil, before coming back to the family farm in Ashland, Neb., during the depression.

Ralph Raikes became a state and later national agricultural leader, appointed in 1980 by President Carter to the Federal Farm Credit Board. In his 1990 obituary, a Nebraska banker called Raikes "the father of the farm credit system in Nebraska and the Midwest."

Jeff Raikes' mother, Alice, taught junior-high-school science and high-school chemistry classes while raising her children. She's retired and still lives at the family farm, now run by Raikes' oldest brother, Ron.

Like most farm boys, Jeff Raikes worked the fields at an early age, learning how to drive a tractor when he was 7. As a teenager, Raikes was responsible for hiring workers to harvest seed corn.

"He was strategic at a very early age," said Ron Raikes, who is also a Nebraska state senator. "He got a feel of what was important."

Raikes excelled in school and was salutatorian at Ashland-Greenwood High School in 1976.

Chuck Niemeyer, Raikes' high-school science teacher and golf coach, said Raikes was competitive even in his teens. Like most cornfed Nebraska boys, Raikes wanted to play football. But he was tall and lanky and had knee problems, not the stuff of linebackers.

"He would have liked to put the decisive blow on someone," Niemeyer said.

Instead, Raikes took up golf. Niemeyer said Raikes couldn't hit the ball as far as most of his opponents, but his short game was phenomenal.

"He would wear down his opponents," Niemeyer said.

Raikes remains active in Ashland, population 2,100. He has given his old high school tens of thousands of dollars in software and computer equipment. And he still owns a piece of the family farm, 2,800 acres of soybeans, corn and a cattle feedlot. He keeps tabs on it, talking regularly with his brother and reading daily commodity price updates from the Internet.

Although Raikes hasn't lived in Nebraska in more than 20 years, he's never stopped thinking of himself as a cornhusker. It's impossible to have a conversation of any length with Raikes without having him talk about his Nebraska roots. His office is a shrine to the state. And every Saturday in the fall, he flies a 4-foot-by-6-foot red University of Nebraska flag from his home to support Cornhusker football.

A Bill clone

Although Raikes often is called a Bill clone because he bears a passing resemblance to Microsoft Chairman Gates, he's taller and broader than his boss. But there are some striking similarities. Like Gates, Raikes often rocks on his heels as he talks. His brown hair seems permanently tousled. And his focus is intense.

Like Gates, Raikes also married a former Microsoft employee. Raikes and his wife, Tricia, have three children.

And like Gates, Raikes has a penchant for competition. When Raikes ran Microsoft's applications group in the early 1990s, it was in a pitched battle with WordPerfect, then the dominant word-processing software. The company was subsequently sold to Novell, which then sold it to Corel. Raikes was relentless in pursuing the business. At one point, Gates suggested that Microsoft executives should wake up thinking about their main competitor and memorize the names of their competitors' children and their birthdays.

Even though WordPerfect is largely an afterthought in the word-processing business today and Pete Peterson, its former boss, has moved on, Raikes can still recite all six of the Peterson children's names. He even remembers most of their birthdays because he used to send them Microsoft key chains, pens and even software as gifts.

As zealous as that may seem, Raikes said it was done in good humor. Peterson agreed.

"It wasn't acrimonious at all. I never felt any malice," said Peterson, who left WordPerfect while it was still the leading program in 1992. "They're just very, very competitive. They just kept coming and coming. They don't quit."

Peterson, who runs a start-up word-processing company in Utah called Word Place, said Raikes had the ability to be driven and decent.

"There's a hard edge underneath," Peterson said. "He really does belong in the group with Ballmer and Gates. But for a guy with a hard edge, he's a nice guy."

Jay Greene's phone message number is 206-464-3287. His e-mail address is: jgreene@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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