With all the high-level turnover at Microsoft lately, an outsider could be forgiven for asking, “who’s left?”But CEO Steve Ballmer still has a core group of trusted lieutenants who advise him on big decisions, and that group hasn’t changed much.
Most of these people have been at Microsoft for eons. A lot of them are on the official senior leadership team. Some are officers of the company, although you might not guess so unless you looked at Microsoft’s SEC filings.
For the most part, these folks aren’t the showboats. They don’t talk to the press much and they don’t appear at many public events. Instead, they’re happy to stay in the shadows, commanding thousands of employees, making product and strategy decisions, and quietly spinning public opinion to paint Microsoft — and its leader — in the best possible light.
Since joining Microsoft from Wal-Mart in 2005, Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner has had more influence over the company than any executive except for Ballmer.
He commands Microsoft's entire sales and marketing teams and operations staff -- about half the company -- and he's responsible for the scorecard system, which measures every product group and employee on a set of metrics, and gives a score for each one: green (OK), yellow (look out), or red (get your resume ready). His public appearances are bland, but internally he's known as a pit bull, with an up-to-the-minute command of every business unit's performance.
Some employees hate him, but shareholders should thank him -- his attention to cost control is one reason why Microsoft's earnings have outpaced revenue in recent years.
When he took over as general counsel in 2002, Brad Smith faced dozens of potentially devastating antitrust investigations and lawsuits. Nine years and billions in fines later, all of those cases have been resolved -- and Microsoft is still intact and generating record profit margins in its core businesses..
More quietly, Smith and his team in Legal and Corporate Affairs (LCA) have dramatically improved Microsoft's influence in Washington DC and Brussels, and embarked on an aggressive intellectual property strategy, filing for thousands of new patents and then licensing those patents to partners and competitors alike. A particular stroke of brilliance: collecting licence fees for patents in open-source software such as Linux, which supposedly infringes Microsoft patents -- even though those claims have never been tested in trial.
Smith may be leaving the company in the next few years -- rumours say he's interested in political office -- but he's got a deep bench at LCA, and the company's legal position is more solid than it's been in years.
In Microsoft's heyday, top executives were considered as either 'Bill (Gates) people' or 'Steve (Ballmer) people,' meaning they had the complete trust of one of Microsoft's two leaders.
Sinofsky was the rare executive with a foot in both camps. He's also one of the last top product leaders left from the old days -- he joined Microsoft in 1989, when it had about 4,000 employees.
As the leader of Office for more than a decade, Sinofsky was known for shipping on time and being secretive about future product plans -- even other groups within Microsoft seldom had luck getting information from the Office team. He took over Windows product development in the wake of the Vista debacle and turned the business back around with Windows 7. Now, he's driving Microsoft's strategy for the next version of Windows, including the effort to revamp it for tablet PCs. With enterprise software leader Bob Muglia on his way out, Sinofsky may be poised to take over core Windows Server development as well.
When Steve Sinofsky took over the Windows group, he brought one of his top lieutenants, Jon DeVaan, over with him. DeVaan started at Microsoft back in 1986 and helped grow Office from nothing to more than $7 billion in revenue. He now controls development for Windows, still Microsoft's biggest and most profitable product.
Mich (short for Michelle) Mathews has been with Microsoft since 1989 and has been a member of the elite senior leadership team for years. She lost her spot as an executive officer after Kevin Turner became her boss in 2005, and may have lost some of her influence as well, but her Central Marketing Group controls Microsoft's advertising and its powerful public relations machine.
HR doesn't normally get a lot of respect at technology comapnies, but Brummel is an executive officer at Microsoft, alongside some (not all) of the company's product group presidents and C-level execs. She's also a member of the senior leadership team and a Microsoft veteran -- she joined the company in 1989, and oversaw its consumer hardware and software business for many years.
Since 2005, she has had the tough job of maintaining employee satisfaction through a period of cost-cutting and the company's first broad layoffs.
Courtois heads all Microsoft field sales offices and marketing outside the United States, which means he's responsible for about 60% of the company's revenue.
A French national, Courtois has been with the company since 1984 -- longer than any other member of the senior leadership team except Ballmer -- and has helped the company navigate the legal and political landscape in Europe. He was also the first Microsoft employee since Ballmer to hold the title of president.
Rudder started at Microsoft as a technical advisor to Bill Gates, then got his chance to lead a huge product team overseeing Microsoft's server software and developer tools. He only lasted a couple of years in the role -- his leadership style apparently rubbed a lot of people the wrong way -- and he returned to a technical advisory role in 2005.
A lot of executives might have stepped aside at that point, but six years later Rudder is still on the senior leadership team and working on secret projects that may help determine the future of Windows. With the departure of Ray Ozzie, he's one of the last highly technical Microsoft execs with a direct line to Ballmer.
Mattrick is a relative newcomer to Microsoft, joining the company in 2007 from EA to lead the Xbox business. But after Robbie Bach left in 2010, he joined the senior leadership team and took command of most of Microsoft's consumer businesses, including Xbox, interactive TV, and Zune. He was also the inspiration behind Kinect, Microsoft's biggest consumer success in years.
Markezich isn't a member of the senior leadership team, and he's a couple levels below Ballmer, but he was responsible for a critical initiative: figuring out how to sell services in addition to software.
Formerly the head of Microsoft's massive internal IT department, Markezich took charge of a secret pilot project in 2005 -- working with Energizer to see if Microsoft could make a business hosting and managing software for its customers, instead of simply selling it to them and letting them run it on their own. Since then, Microsoft has embraced cloud computing full on.
Nadella started at Microsoft in 1992, and oversaw business and enterprise software before coming over to the consumer side. He currently leads engineering not only for Bing, but for MSN and the critical advertising platform as well.
Bing may be costing Microsoft hundreds of millions of dollars every quarter, but Ballmer is determined to keep investing to keep the pressure on Google and other online companies that may pose a threat to Windows and Office: in 2009, he said he'd spend between 5% and 10% of Microsoft's annual operating income on search for the next five years -- that could be as much as $11 billion. As long as the wallet's open, Nadella is in charge of figuring out how best to use it.
One of Ballmer's closest and longest-lasting advisors, Vigil is not a public figure. But as his official biography makes clear, he has closed a lot of partnership deals and mended fences with Microsoft competitors -- and legal opponents -- like IBM, Sun, and RealNetworks. He also attends industry events (whether Microsoft is officially there or not) and reportedly does some behind-the-scenes work scouting investments and partnerships.
As one former employee put it, if Microsoft ever needed somebody to deliver a suitcase full of cash in the middle of the night, Ballmer would probably trust Vigil more than anybody else to do it.
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