Microsoft: Post-Windows 8 Launch, Chief Sinofsky Departs
In what is fast becoming the year of living dangerously for high profile IT executives, Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows division president Steven Sinofsky, perhaps at the top of the line to eventually succeed chief executive Steve Ballmer, will leave the company immediately, less than a month after shepherding the company’s momentous launch of Windows 8.
In Sinofsky’s place, Microsoft promoted Julie Larson-Green to lead all Windows software and hardware engineering, and Tami Reller, while holding on to her posts as chief financial officer (CFO) and chief marketing officer (CMO), also will be tasked with responsibility for the Windows business. Both Larson-Green and Reller will report to Ballmer.
This only two weeks after Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) parted ways with 15-year company veteran Scott Forstall, its iOS software development chief, and John Browett, its retail senior vice president. Forstall presided over the Siri and Apple Maps messes, the latter prompting chief executive Tim Cook’s formal apology, while Browett cut staffing hours at Apple’s retail stores, an admitted mistake the vendor subsequently walked back.
But in Sinofsky’s case, there’s no blatant Windows 8 snafu even though consumer uptake isn’t as rabid as Microsoft hoped at this point. So what gives? Were the whispers about a strained relationship between Sinofsky, a former Bill Gates technical confidant, and Ballmer true?
Publicly there were no bridges burned but also no clues offered as to why Sinofsky’s exit door, after 23 years at Microsoft that began as a software engineer, abruptly sprung open. Before Windows, Sinofsky oversaw Microsoft Office, including the product development of Office versions 2007, 2003, XP and 2000.
“I am grateful for the many years of work that Steven has contributed to the company,” Ballmer said in a statement that can be construed as a bit muted.
“It is impossible to count the blessings I have received over my years at Microsoft,” Sinofsky said in his closing statement, offering up a little more sentiment. “I am humbled by the professionalism and generosity of everyone I have had the good fortune to work with at this awesome company.”
Scuttlebutt had it that Sinofsky, like Apple’s Forstall, wasn’t the easiest of personalities with whom to break bread, perhaps not as well-liked as other executives and possibly a bit too much of a star to suit Ballmer and others. But that’s mainly gossip, perhaps not worthy of Microsoft’s executive decision-making, although the star power part may have some traction. Ballmer, in alluding to a “new era” at Microsoft, so far framed by new versions of Office, Windows, Windows Phone, Surface and Windows Server 2012, tossed out that “it is imperative that we continue to drive alignment across all Microsoft teams, and have more integrated and rapid development cycles for our offerings.”
Is it too much reading between the lines to infer from those last few words that Sinofsky’s comet-like leadership had run its course in Ballmer’s view?
There’s a telling story about Sinofsky posted here that bears paraphrasing. In discussing whether Windows 8 will be too much of a departure from prior Windows versions for users to grasp, Sinofsky recounted how he’d recently bought a new car of the same make and model as his old one. But when he went to rev up the new car, he couldn’t figure out how to do it.
Finally he saw “a big glowing button that said, ‘Start.’ That’s all it took to figure it out,” he’s quoted as saying. Making reference to Windows 8 supplanting the popular Windows XP, he said, “Let’s call the old car, Car XP, and the new one Car 8.” Doesn’t much sound like a guy on the way out.
As for Sinofsky’s replacements, neither appear at first glance to carry his heft. Larson-Green, who has been with Microsoft since 1993, has worked on the user experience for earlier versions of Internet Explorer and contributed similarly to Office. For Windows 7 and Windows 8 she handled program management, user interface design and research, and development of all international releases. Reller onboarded with Windows five years ago from Microsoft’s Dynamics Division. She was Great Plains Software’s CFO when Microsoft bought the developer in 2001.