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If Bill Gates is trying to give Microsoft Corp. a more wholesome image, promoting Bradford Smith to senior vice president and general counsel is a good start. Affable and modest, Smith grew up in the heartland — Appleton, Wis. — and seems like he would blend right in on the set of the old TV show “Happy Days”. Smith relieves the combative William Neukom, who began working for Microsoft in 1979, when the company was an obscure software enterprise and Neukom was a law partner of Gates’ father. The departing GC retired on June 30 and rejoined Seattle’s Preston Gates & Ellis in July. Smith, 43, says his top priority is “building a strong record of compliance” under the five-year consent decree Microsoft signed with the Bush administration and nine states last November. The agreement requires Microsoft to disclose some Windows software code and to give rivals a fighting chance to sell their wares to computer makers. Another of Smith’s goals is to head off future antitrust problems by making some regulatory and industry friends. Handling Microsoft’s chairman is another story. Is it part of Smith’s mandate to soften up Gates’ image, especially after superstar deposer David Boies made Gates look defiant and evasive early in the antitrust case? “I wouldn’t put it quite that way,” Smith says, adding that Gates himself is well aware of past missteps. “But it’s certainly a focus.” Microsoft’s top lawyer runs a law department that’s as big as a midsize firm. The company’s 210 attorneys and 400 support staff are organized into seven major groups; they report to Smith and his deputies. Before becoming general counsel, Smith was deputy GC for worldwide sales. In that position, he managed all of Microsoft’s legal and government affairs work outside the United States. From 1993 to 1996, Smith was in charge of the company’s European law and corporate affairs group in Paris. At home, Smith and his wife, Kathy Surace-Smith, have two children, four PCs and an Xbox, Microsoft’s computer game console. “We’re the model Microsoft home,” he says. Not exactly: Other than reading the next day’s newspapers online after the kids go to bed, Smith confesses he does very little Net surfing. He knows ignorance is no excuse, though, when it comes to legal accountability. While stumping for Microsoft’s kinder, gentler approach, Smith admits that there is “a great deal of work ahead” to earn the trust of regulators. “We also need to win the confidence of others in our industry,” he says, “and only time and a strong track record will do that.” A nice-guy general counsel can’t hurt, either.

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