Microsoft / Bill Gates
In 1995, Josh’s career took a slight detour when he became the head of corporate communication for Microsoft. He joined the company just after the launch of Windows 95. Many of Josh’s friends and associates thought it was a strange choice. Josh was hardly the corporate guy, but he was enamored by the promise of how technology could positively transform many aspects of our lives. Also, Bill Gates spent two hours convincing Josh that he should come to work for Microsoft and that they really needed new thinking, something beyond the standard tech communications approach.
So Josh jumped in. It was an incredibly intense time at Microsoft, to say the least. Email was just taking off and the internet was on the verge of becoming widespread. It was also some years before Bill and Melinda launched their foundation.
Josh was very involved in the promotion of Bill’s first book, The Road Ahead. Gates appeared for the first time on the David Letterman Show and in a 30-minute MTV special filmed in an internet café in NYC’s East Village. The tour included special events in Los Angeles, Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. As far as he knew, Josh (along with consultant Ken Lerer), were the first PR professionals to media train Bill.
After less than a year, it became clear to Josh that being head of communications at Microsoft was not the right fit. It is extremely hard to come in from the outside and be fully effective in this kind of intense corporate realm. In addition, although some of the leaders at Microsoft thought they wanted a new approach to their communications strategy, in fact that was not the case. So they parted ways amicably.
Oracle / Larry Ellison
In the early 1990s, no one was talking about the World Wide Web — it was “the information superhighway.” In 1993, Vice President Al Gore hosted the Information Superhighway Summit at UCLA. At that time, Microsoft was the software giant, but there was also Oracle and its founder Larry Ellison. Ellison and Oracle back then were both relatively unknown outside the tech and business world. Oracle was a database company and to non-techies that meant spreadsheets, back-end and boring. In Ellison’s vision, Oracle was the mega-platform that would manage all the information of the future — and to him everything was just bits of data. Ellison wanted to be in business with Hollywood.
Working with Edelman, Josh was hired by Oracle to introduce Oracle and Ellison to the entertainment world. Over a year period, Josh introduced Oracle executives and then eventually Ellison himself to all the leaders of entertainment — David Geffen, Michael Ovitz, Michael Eisner, Sid Sheinberg, and Barry Diller. Josh was part of the team producing an introduction to Oracle event at CBS Television City for entertainment industry leaders hosted by Walter Cronkite.
Of course, Ellison was prescient — all the world’s movies, TV shows, music, images are bits of data that are indeed stored on servers within mostly Oracle databases. Welcome to big data. (Josh also introduced Ellison to Michael Milken which resulted in them jointly creating Knowledge Universe.)
From the book Softwar: An Intimate Portrait of Larry Ellison and Oracle by Clayton M. Christensen:
"By January 1994, the (video server) technology was sufficiently stable to be rolled out at an event hosted by Walter Cronkite at the CBS Studios in Hollywood. Ellison was already experiencing a degree of limelight that didn’t normally come with selling databases. He met entertainment moguls such as Michael Eisner of Disney, Rupert Murdoch, and Barry Diller, and also made his first appearance on the cover of Fortune Magazine. The accompanying article by Alan Deutschman, gratifyingly entitled, “Software’s Other Billionaire,” was in marked contrast to the kind of press Ellison had been getting only a couple of years earlier. Best of all were the pictures showing Ellison in the Japanese garden of his home surrounded by lots of little television sets. The message couldn’t have clearer or better for Oracle: here was the man who was making the dream of video-on-demand into reality.”
Peter Norton and the Norton Utilities
At the beginning of the PC age, one of the nightmares every user faced was erasing important files by mistake. Peter Norton was an early computer pioneer. When the IBM PC made its debut in 1981, Norton was among the first to buy one. After he was laid off during an aerospace industry cutback, he took up microcomputer programming to make ends meet.
One day he accidentally erased a file. Rather than re-enter the data, as most would have, he decided to write a program to recover the information from the disk. In the DOS system, erased files are not actually gone — they are still there — but at that early stage in the software, there was no way for consumers to find them. So Norton created a simple “utility.” His friends were delighted with the program and he developed a group of utility programs that he sold — one at a time — to user groups. In 1982, he founded Peter Norton Computing and introduced the Norton Utilities including Norton's popular UNERASE tool.
Josh knew Peter from their Zen days together and assisted the new company for a few years with early tech PR and general media. Peter was a natural marketing genius. He put not only his name but also his face on the front of his product. In fact, the iconic photo of Peter, shirt sleeves rolled up, arms crossed, was taken by Josh on his parents balcony in Los Angeles — and that photo was used for the first years until new ones were finally taken.
Peter also became a huge-selling author of dozens of books on various aspects of personal computing. As the company grew, Peter and his wife Eileen became well-known art collectors, philanthropists and political donors.