by W. E. Pete Peterson
Copyright 1993, 1998 W. E. Peterson
On Monday, March 23, 1992 at 10:30 a.m. I walked into what I thought was a routine meeting of
the Board of Directors of WordPerfect Corporation. Bruce Bastian, the Chairman of the Board,
invited me to sit down in his office. Alan Ashton, the President of the company, entered the room
and took a seat. Thethree of us had been the only members of the Board of Directors for the past
ten years. We owned all the stock in the company.
Alan made it a point to tell me we were having a shareholders' meeting, not a Board meeting. This
seemingly small clarification was no minor detail. As with most companies, the shareholders of
WordPerfect Corporation rarely met in an official capacity. When we did, itwas usually to meet
legal requirements rather than to address any serious business issues. The important decisions were
made by the Board of Directors, even though it consisted of the same three individuals. A special
meeting of the shareholders meant a change to the Board.
Duff Thompson, our attorney, also joined the meeting. He repeated Alan's warning that we were
having a shareholders'meeting, and gave us each a paper to sign to make sure the meeting was
absolutely official. This did not look good for me.
Alan looked down at the conference table and recited from memory what sounded like a carefully
worded speech. He and Bruce believed it was time for a change. They wanted to add three new
members to the Board of Directors, so more people could have a voice in the importantcorporate
decisions. Twice I interrupted to try to understand what was happening. After each interruption,
Alan repeated his speech from the beginning word for word.
Bruce then explained that some of my responsibilities had to go to other employees, so more people
could have an opportunity to make important contributions. Specifically, my marketing and sales
duties were to go to someone else.He made it clear I was still wanted on the Board and in the
company, but I would have to accept a different role. He said my influence in the company was too
I felt numb.
When I started working with Alan and Bruce in 1980, their company had only six employees and
sales of about $20,000 a month. By 1991, my last full year with the company, we had more than
4,000 employees and annualsales of more than half a billion dollars. More than 10 million people
used WordPerfect worldwide. The company had no debt, more than one hundred fifty million
dollars in the bank, more than one hundred million dollars of real estate, and millions of dollars
worth of computers, cars, and furnishings. Our reputation was as impressive as our bank balance.
Our customers loved our products. Ouremployees never wanted to leave. We had built a company
worth perhaps two billion dollars, without the help of experienced business professionals, and
without losing even a small part of the company to outside investors.
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We discussed the proposed changes for almost three hours, but the final vote was never in doubt. I
owned one percent of the stock andBruce and Alan each owned half of the rest. Sales were down a
little for the current quarter and they had made up their minds. They no longer wanted me running
I told them I did not want to stay if my marketing and sales duties were taken away. That would
take all the fun out of my job. They argued that my other duties were important and that my
contribution would still besignificant. I would have an opportunity to express my opinions and cast
a vote on all important decisions.
Although I believed they were sincere in what they said, I could not stay. I did not believe a
committee of six people could effectively run a company, nor did I have enough energy left to try to
make it work. If Bruce and Alan did not want me running their company, I was ready to leave....