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What did Bill Gates know, and when did he know it?

Microsoft Corp.'s billionaire chairman-CEO appears to have learned from a publishing executive, not from Ogilvy & Mather, that O&M had dropped him for long-time rival IBM Corp.

At the Comdex/Spring computer show May 24, just a few hours after IBM had announced its move, Computerworld Publisher Gary Beach asked Mr. Gates about the fallout.

Mr. Gates, seemingly unaware, looked stunned. Rubbing his chin, he responded obliquely, "*`That's interesting,'*" Mr. Beach recalled. "He either didn't know, or he has a very good poker face."

In a brief interview with Advertising Age shortly after that, Mr. Gates wouldn't acknowledge that IBM and Microsoft represented a conflict for the agency. And it wasn't clear he even knew that O&M, Los Angeles, had already resigned the Microsoft account so O&M, New York, could take on IBM's $500 million account.

"Ogilvy, Los Angeles, has our account, not Ogilvy, New York," Mr. Gates said curtly.

Mr. Gates didn't appear clued in. But O&M went out of its way to tell the world's largest PC software marketer it was switching to the world's largest computer marketer.

Gerald McGee, exec VP-managing director of the agency's Los Angeles office, flew with a colleague to Tokyo to meet with Microsoft Exec VP Steve Ballmer and resign the account hours before IBM announced its agency switch.

IBM helped put Microsoft on the map and is its biggest customer, but the two have had a contentious relationship.

It was no doubt sweet victory for many IBMers to swipe Mr. Gates' agency-a sort of "Mine's bigger than yours, Bill" rebuttal, said Kelly Conlin, exec VP of International Data Group.

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