Speculation: did Kevin Turner jump, or was he pushed?

Kip Kniskern

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Earlier today (far too early, in fact), Microsoft and Citadel Securities announced that COO Kevin Turner would be leaving the company at the end of the month, to be replaced not by another COO but by a sharing of responsibilities among current and new senior leadership staff.

In his farewell email to Microsoft employees, Turner cites that his children have grown up and become adults as one incentive for change, and lists his accomplishments in his 11 years at Microsoft:

As I reflect over the past 11 years, leading our revenue growth from $37 billion to over $93 billon has been an incredibly rewarding thrill.

Even more than that, seeing our Customer and Partner Satisfaction levels go to all-time highs, watching our retail stores come on and thrive, seeing us move our selling from licenses to solutions and seeing our Cloud transformation explode have been some of the proudest accomplishments that I have ever been a part of in my professional career!

Turner has been a well liked, hard-working, driven leader, known to drop a bomb or two at keynote speeches as he rallied the troops and touted Microsoft’s present (and future) accomplishments. That he has a CEO position all lined up, and that his departure comes separately from any other sweeping changes in corporate structure (although it does come at the beginning of Microsoft’s fiscal year, which starts in July) seems to lead credence to this being just a “moving on to greener pastures,” an empty-nester executive looking to become a CEO.

However, Microsoft’s sales operations are in flux, and Microsoft’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, John Thompson, has been pushing for the company to move faster in moving to the cloud, and revamping its sales operations.

Bloomberg outlined the Board’s thinking in a post a month ago:

The board is examining whether Microsoft has invested enough in its complete cloud lineup, Thompson said. It’s not just about developing better cloud technology — it’s a question of how the company sells those products and its strategy for recruiting partners to resell Microsoft’s services and build their own offerings on top of them. Persuading partners to develop compatible applications is a strong point for cloud market leader Amazon.com Inc., he said.

Thompson declined to be specific about what the company might change in sales and partnerships, but he said the company may need to “re-imagine” those organizations. “The question is, should it be more?” he said. “If you believe we need to run harder, run faster, be less risk-averse as a mantra, the question is how much more do you do.”

Now with the sales operation split among basically 5 members of the senior leadership team reporting directly to CEO Satya Nadella, it may be that the transition the board is looking for will fall into the hands not of a new COO, but to Nadella himself, as he continues to take firm control of the company he’s positioning to be ready for a “mobile first, cloud first” world.

Kevin Turner has done a commendable job at Microsoft, building a highly efficient sales operation, rallying the troops, and working to power new offerings like Office 365 and Azure with new ways of selling cloud offerings. It may be, however, that the job of taking Microsoft’s sales to the next level, and to a whole new strategy outlined by John Thompson and the board, will be better served by someone other than Turner.

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