The Microsoft Brain Drain: 10 Top Execs Who Left In The Last 10 Years And Where They Ended Up

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Photo: Associated Press

Microsoft sheds executives like a snake sheds its skin.As a former Microsoft executive recruiter says, the standard cycle for outside hires is two or three years before rotating out for a better job.

But Microsoft has also lost a lot of veterans who got sick of the pressure, found better opportunities, or were quietly “managed out” for poor performance.

Many of these execs take early retirement or while their time away on leisure pursuits like racing dune buggies in Baja.

But some of them end up in positions of power — and later recruit other Microsoft employees to join them.

Here are 10 Microsoft execs who ended up in powerful positions elsewhere.

Paul Maritz: VMWare CEO

A lot of Microsoft insiders look back at the departure of Paul Maritz in 2000 as the beginning of Microsoft's brain drain over the last decade. Maritz was influential in Microsoft's early days, and at one point had control over nearly all Microsoft products, but his duties were gradually reduced after Steve Ballmer became President and later CEO.

In 2008, Maritz became CEO of VMWare, one of Microsoft's most important enterprise software competitors -- VMWare's virtualization software can reduce the amount of hardware and Microsoft software that companies need to run their data centres. In 2009, he was joined by engineer Mark Lucovsky, who famously claimed that Steve Ballmer threw a chair across the room when Lucovsky announced he was leaving Microsoft for Google in 2004.

Greg Maffei: Liberty Media CEO

Maffei worked in finance at Microsoft in the 1990s, and was the company's CFO from 1997 through 2000. He left to become CEO of John Malone's cable and media company Liberty Media, where he was reportedly the highest-paid executive in the US in 2009, earning $87.5 million.

Nathan Myhrvold: Intellectual Ventures founder

Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold started at Microsoft in 1986, was one of the closest advisors to Bill Gates, and was instrumental in starting Microsoft Research. He left in 2000 to form IP holding company Intellectual Ventures, which collects patents and then tries to capitalise on them by funding inventions or seeking licensing deals -- for instance, Samsung and HTC recently licensed the entire Intellectual Ventures portfolio to help protect themselves from Android-related IP litigation. He is reportedly still close with Gates.

Brian Valentine: Amazon Senior VP

Brian Valentine was known as a hard-charging executive, and as a senior vice president he oversaw Windows core technology for about eight years. He's credited with getting Windows 2000 on track after several delays, but stepped down in 2006 as Microsoft struggled to get Vista released. He is now the senior vice president of Amazon's e-commerce platform.

Vic Gundotra: Google VP

Compared with most of the other execs on this list, Gundotra was in a relatively low-level position at Microsoft -- he was a general manager of developer evangelism, putting him two or three levels below CEO Steve Ballmer. But as vice president of engineering for Google, Gundotra has been a high-profile spokesperson for the company, and is reportedly leading one of Google's efforts to compete with Facebook in social networking.

Kevin Johnson: Juniper CEO

Kevin Johnson led Microsoft's Windows and Online divisions starting in 2005, taking over for Jim Allchin in the middle of the Vista development cycle. rumour has it that he ran into conflicts with Ballmer over the failed acquisition of Yahoo (which turned out to be a great move in retrospect).

In 2008, he left to become CEO of Juniper Networks. Earlier this month, Windows marketing VP Brad Brooks left to join Johnson there.

Chris Liddell: General Motors CFO

Chris Liddell joined Microsoft as Chief Financial Officer in 2005, and lasted a little more than four years before taking the same job at the recently restructured General Motors in late 2009.

Bill Veghte: HP Executive VP

When Microsoft appointed Steve Sinofsky to lead the Windows business in mid-2009, the other senior vice president in the group, Bill Veghte, cooled his heels for a few months before leaving to take a job leading HP's software business in 2010.

Jeff Raikes: Gates Foundation CEO

Jeff Raikes joined Microsoft from Apple way back in 1981, and had several important roles at the company, including leading sales in the 1990s and heading up Office and other business software for nearly a decade. He was considered one of the most influential people at Microsoft before he in 2008 to become the CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He's not exactly a Microsoft outsider in his new role, and he's still considered a possible successor to Ballmer.

Stephen Elop: Nokia CEO

Stephen Elop came from Macromedia and Adobe to replace Jeff Raikes in 2008, but left after less than two years to become the CEO of mobile phone giant Nokia.

Plus one more.

Bill Gates is still Chairman of Microsoft's board of directors and the company's largest shareholder, but he handed the CEO reins to Ballmer in 2000 and left day-to-day duties at Microsoft in 2008. He now spends almost all of his time overseeing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Microsoft's other cofounder left in 1983

Paul Allen can't really be considered a defection -- he left way back in 1983 for health reasons. But he's certainly become powerful, owning two sports teams, a bunch of real estate, and plenty of tech companies as well.

Here's more about Paul Allen's amazing life→

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