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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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April 27, 2009 8:03 AM

Microsoft morning news roundup: Campus picnic canceled

Posted by Sharon Chan

Update 1:25 p.m.: I just spoke to Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos by phone and he said ,yes, the picnic has been called off. The company will not hold its annual summer picnic near North Bend this year.

As the company's local headcount grew to 41,000 people, the picnic went from a one-day affair to one spread out over two weekends, featuring pony rides, wall climbing, food, drink, softball and frisbee for Microsoft workers and their families.

"The feedback from employees to Lisa Brummel, our VP of HR [human resources] has been overwhelmingly positive and understanding," Gellos said. "Obviously people are disappointed but they understand why and there doesn't appear to be any angst over this at all."

Microsoft plans to eliminate 5,000 jobs between January and July 2010, and has made 1,400 of those cuts. The company also plans to create 2,000 to 3,000 jobs in the same period.


  • CNET says Microsoft has canceled its annual summer picnic for its Redmond employees. We are checking with the company to see if it's true.The event usually takes place over a few days. The company said in its earnings call Thursday it planned to cut another $1 billion in operating expenses by June 30.

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March 9, 2009 6:04 AM

Profile: Kirill Tatarinov, head of Microsoft Business Solutions

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

From today's paper, a profile of Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president in charge of Microsoft Business Solutions:

Even with somewhere north of $1 billion in annual sales, Microsoft Business Solutions is dwarfed by the enormous Office business that it shares space with in the company's quarterly reports.

But Kirill Tatarinov, the group's leader since July 2007, said MBS brings more to the broader Microsoft than revenue from its Dynamics-branded systems, which manage a company's customer relationships, suppliers, inventory and other business basics.

It provides a "proof point to business decision makers" using the whole set of Microsoft server technologies, Tatarinov said. The Dynamics products "take advantage of all the innovation that's happening" on Windows Server, Visual Studio, Office and other major products Microsoft sells to businesses.

Continue reading this post ...

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February 23, 2009 3:12 PM

Microsoft lets 25 laid-off employees keep severance overpayment

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


After asking 25 laid-off Microsoft employees to return an overpayment of severance benefits, Microsoft's top human resources executive decided to let them keep the money. Calling it a "unique circumstance," Lisa Brummel, senior vice president of human resources, said the employees will not have to repay the overpayment, which ranged from a couple hundred dollars to over $5,000, but averaged about $4,000 to $5,000 across the 25 employees. [Parker Brothers Monopoly card via]

An additional 20 laid-off employees were underpaid severance. They will receive received checks making up the correct amount.

All 45 individuals are part of the group of 1,400 people notified of layoffs on Jan. 22.

Updated, 3:55 p.m.: Brummel did a round of interviews this afternoon in a bid to quickly put to rest an issue that has drawn negative attention to the company's handling of the layoffs. TechCrunch broke the story on Saturday, posting a letter from Microsoft to a laid-off employee seeking repayment of the extra severance. Other media picked it up over the weekend and today.

She said the issue came to her attention through "internal channels."

"This was brought to my attention just recently in the past two days that we had done this and I said, 'You know, this is a unique population. This is a unique circumstance. I think our normal course of business action is the wrong one to take in this case. We should in fact not pursue repayment from those employees and I am going to call each of them personally and let them know that, which I have done,'" she said.

"I can tell you universally they were quite happy," Brummel said. "I just felt like it was--- this is a unique circumstance where normal course of business doesn't really apply."

Asked if the attention the story was getting played into her decision to let the laid-off employees keep the extra severance, Brummel said, "Honestly, I didn't see any of the media coverage." She said she reads the papers but was "more interested in the Seattle Opera review today than anything else."

The severance payment errors were due to a "clerical mistake on our end," she said.

Severance benefits varied by country. Most U.S. employees were eligible for at least 60 days of pay, and additional severance based on tenure and level.

What do you think of Microsoft's decision?

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February 12, 2009 2:21 PM

What fate for Bill Gates' famous 'Think Weeks' at Microsoft?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

First mentioned last week in Mini-Microsoft's "pause" post, Microsoft is apparently rethinking the weeklong study sessions instituted by Bill Gates and later expanded to be a tool for percolating ideas up to the top from throughout the company. Mini wrote, "Within our leadership, there's no one left who wants to read your Think Week paper, so they're killing that off."Mary Jo Foley followed up today, quoting a Microsoft spokesperson saying the company remains committed to innovation, and it is "evaluating how best to evolve Think Week."

Continue reading this post ...

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December 6, 2008 1:14 PM

Microsoft workers mourn Mumbai victims

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


More than 200 Microsoft workers, many with close ties to India, gathered Friday to pay tribute to the victims of last week's terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Seattle Times reporter Charles E. Brown covered a candlelight vigil at Microsoft on Friday for victims of the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

On a grassy sports field on Microsoft's main campus in Redmond, more than 200 company workers, many of them expressing close ties to India, gathered to end the workweek in remembrance.

From the outset, Sandeep Singh, a Microsoft senior finance manager who, as a younger man, served his homeland as an Indian navy officer and National Defence Academy instructor, set the tone. The purpose of the gathering, he told the group, was to show solidarity against last week's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, where more than 170 people lost their lives and many more were injured.

Continue reading this post ...

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December 6, 2008 12:58 PM

Hiring of new Microsoft exec Qi Lu strikes diversity chord

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


Qi Lu, highest ranking Chinese American in Microsoft history.

Here's a story from today's paper with more reaction to the news this week that Microsoft has filled a strategically critical leadership role:
Chinese Americans at Microsoft and in the community cheered the appointment of Qi Lu as president of the company's Online Services Group, noting the significance of his arrival at the highest ranks of the company.

"When people look at their own career potential in a company, they always look at if there is someone like them in the senior leadership team," said Weina Wang, chairwoman of Chinese Microsoft Employees (CHIME), the largest company-sponsored diversity group, with 2,500 members. "And I think Lu's joining Microsoft is definitely a huge encouragement, from a career-development perspective, for all the Chinese and Asian employees."

Continue reading this post ...

Comments | Category: Coming and going , Corporate culture , Personalities , Public policy & issues , Recruiting , Search , Yahoo |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 1, 2008 10:02 AM

Required watching: 'The Simpsons' sends up Steve Jobs, er, Mobs

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Catch "The Simpsons" last night? If not, enjoy this opening sequence in which the Springfield Mall gets a "Mapple" store and Bart steals the show from Steve Mobs (telling a crowd in the Mapple store, "I have made a fortune off of you chumps and I've invested it all in Microsoft!" Gasp) among other spot-on tech-culture references.

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October 6, 2008 1:36 PM

Microsoft business exec Elop shares newcomer's observations

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times

Stephen Elop, photographed in May, shared his observations today after 10 months at the helm of the Microsoft Business Division.

Ten months into his job as president of Microsoft's $19 billion business division, Stephen Elop has come to some conclusions about his new employer. It is a tenacious company, relentlessly self-critical and full of people who believe their jobs can make a major impact on the world. He expanded on those ideas in front of a Seattle audience this morning.

Continue reading this post ...

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September 25, 2008 10:02 AM

Microsoft lauded as great place for working moms

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Working Mother magazine named Microsoft to its 100 Best Companies list for 2008, citing 20 weeks of job-guaranteed time off for new parents (by birth or adoption), among other family-friendly benefits. It was the sixth appearance on the list for the Redmond company.

The magazine notes that among the companies on its list, more than half increased benefits, despite the economic downturn.

Update, 5:05 p.m.: A Microsoft spokeswoman noted that Working Mother had a few things a bit wrong about the company's benefits. Here's the correct info: "Microsoft offers 20 weeks of job-guaranteed time off for new parents only. [Also] birth mothers receive 8 weeks maternity leave, and 12 weeks parental leave (20 job-guaranteed weeks off), and fathers and adoptive parents receive 12 job-guaranteed weeks off."

Continue reading this post ...

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September 19, 2008 11:34 AM

More from Microsoft's company meeting: Paper airplane record; Ballmer talked stock, drank honey?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Following up on yesterday's report from Microsoft's company meeting, during which CEO Steve Ballmer shared his views on the company's mobile strategy, here are some other tidbits gleaned from folks in attendance:

Continue reading this post ...

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September 18, 2008 8:23 AM

Next Microsoft ad takes aim at Apple's "I'm a PC" stereotype

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

STEROTYPE30_TTL_sean2.jpg "Hello. I'm a PC. And I've been made into a stereotype," says Sean, right, in the outset of the latest installment in Microsoft's $300 million Windows ad campaign, set to debut tonight in prime time.

(Update, 7:26 p.m.: Watch it here.)

The sixty-second spot -- one of several elements in a campaign that will span print, the Web, television and outdoor -- launches into a series of testimonials by other people, including celebrities and real people, who proclaim, "I'm a PC."

"I'm a PC, and I'm not what you would call hip," says a woman standing in front of a white board. Bill Gates is next. "I'm a PC," says the Microsoft founder, holding a bag (paper) of groceries, "and I wear glasses."

Architect Edouard Francois says he designs green buildings. "Desperate Houswives" star Eva Longoria and husband Tony Parker, guard for the San Antonio Spurs, make an appearance. As does Deepak Chopra, who intones, "I am a PC and I am a human being. Not a human doing. Not a human thinking. A human being."

Update, 9:43 a.m.: The spot closes with the tag line for the campaign: "Windows: Life without Walls." Bill Veghte, senior vice president of Microsoft's online services and Windows business group, said Microsoft felt it had to reclaim the message around its products from Apple and is doing so with the "I'm a PC" ad, which will start in heavy rotation on U.S. television tonight. Shorter versions will appear across the Internet as part of a "very significant" online buy.

"We need to be out telling our story to our customers," Veghte said. "These are Windows customers telling the story of what Windows represents. ...

"Windows is about all sizes and shapes of different PCs and devices and software applications, and so to the extent that Windows is inclusive, that is something we want to make sure people understand. It's not a stereotype. It's an inclusive set of experiences that celebrate and support diversity and individuality and choice."

Starting this afternoon on, people will be able to upload their own "I'm a PC" testimonials, which will be incorporated into other parts of the campaign, including a video billboard in Times Square in New York City.

"The whole approach is very dynamic and viral," Veghte said. "... The celebrities we use today will certainly evolve as we go forward."

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld does not appear in this part of the campaign. Eric Hollreiser, a company spokesman, said "that doesn't mean you won't see him in the future."

There was some speculation yesterday that the perplexing Seinfeld ads were pulled because of unfavorable response. Regardless of how they were received, they managed to build tremendous buzz around the campaign. And Microsoft said from the outset that it planned the Seinfeld ads as an introduction -- given that it has not done much mass market consumer advertising since the launch of Windows Vista in early 2007 -- to be followed by more concrete messaging.

(You also won't see Seinfeld at today's Microsoft company meeting, which begins at 11 a.m. at Safeco Field -- and is closed to the public. Microsoft tapped Rainn Wilson of "The Office" to emcee the annual event, which Bill Gates will not attend for the first time in recent memory.)

To hammer home the "Life without Walls" tag line, Microsoft also launched a flurry of print ads featuring a Windows "Manifesto," which Veghte described as a document used internally "quite a bit." (It appeared in a two-page spread in the A section of The Seattle Times.) It carries the heading "Windows VS Walls" -- a not-so-veiled reference to the closed system of Apple, which makes hardware and operating system software.

The manifesto, printed next to a picture of a guy who has just cut a Windows-logo-shaped window through the wall of a house with a sawzall, reads:

"This epic struggle explains why we make what we make and do what we do. The thing that gets us out of bed every day is the prospect of creating pathways above, below, around and through walls. To start a dialogue between hundreds of devices, billions of people and a world of ideas.

To lift up the smallest of us. And catapult the most audacious of us. But, most importantly, to connect all of us to the four corners of our own digital lives and to each other. To go on doing the little stuff, the big stuff, the crazy stuff and that ridiculously necessary stuff. On our own or together.

This is more than software we're talking about. It's an approach to life. An approach dedicated to engineering the absence of anything that might stand in the way ... of life.

Today, more than one billion people worldwide have Windows. Which is just another way of saying we have each other."

Other print ads will highlight Windows across a range of outlets, from the PC, to mobile devices to the Web.

Stuart Elliott, advertising writer for The New York Times, has an interesting piece analyzing the success of the Windows campaign so far and the risks and rewards of countering a rival's attacks.

What do you think of this next installment in the campaign?

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September 17, 2008 10:47 AM

'Office' star Rainn Wilson, not Seinfeld, to emcee Microsoft employee meeting tomorrow

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Justin Lubin / NBC

Rainn Wilson, star of "The Office," rumored to be hosting Microsoft company meeting.

A tipster tells me that Microsoft has enlisted local boy Rainn Wilson, star of the NBC sitcom "The Office," to host its annual company meeting Thursday. People initially thought the host would be Jerry Seinfeld, who has recently hitched his wagon to the high-profile Windows campaign. "We were told the host would be 'comedic,'" the tipster says, "so [Seinfeld] was the natural assumption, but Wilson, I think, will be a much more enjoyable emcee. ... [T]he Rainn carrot is enticing some of my co-workers to now go to the meeting."

I'm trying to get confirmation from Microsoft on the logistics of the company meeting, which is typically held at Safeco Field and can surprise some commuters with heavy traffic for a weekday morning in Sodo. Last year, the company also delivered some significant local news on the morning of the meeting, including a major investment in downtown Seattle real estate and a private shuttle network to save employees from driving alone to Redmond.

(Update, 11:40 a.m. and again at 12:13 p.m.: Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos confirmed that the meeting will be held at Safeco tomorrow morning from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., which is shorter than normal. Wilson is indeed the emcee. Other presenters include Microsoft execs Steve Ballmer, Ray Ozzie and Kevin Turner. No definitive word on whether Bill Gates will be on hand. Bill Gates will not be there.

So far, about 21,000 23,000 employees have registered, which is a few thousand more than in previous years. Gellos noted that the company deliberately scheduled the meeting in the middle of the day to avoid impacting the morning or evening commutes. It also has a fleet of 212 buses to bring employees to and from Redmond and minimize the traffic impact. Buses will leave the Eastside between 9:30 and 10 a.m. and return beginning at 3 p.m.

Microsoft is conducting a food drive at the event to support Northwest Harvest and the Food Lifeline, agencies that are straining under the pressure of higher fuel prices and the slowing economy, Gellos said.)

Meanwhile, we've done some interesting stories on Rainn Wilson over the years, so check out these tidbits about the guy who ran with a posse of "Dungeons and Dragons aficionados" in his days at Shorecrest High School.

Continue reading this post ...

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September 15, 2008 10:44 AM

Fascinating account of 'The Game,' an adventure race organized by Microsoft execs, sheds light on tech culture

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Jonathan Martin writes in The Seattle Times' Pacific Magazine about an adventure scavenger hunt called The Game. The story is a must read for anyone interested in learning more about the mindset of high-achieving smart guys at companies like Microsoft.

Martin's story focuses on one particular running of the annual event in 2002, organized by Joe Belfiore, an 18-year company veteran and currently corporate vice president in charge of the company's Media Center line. He had been putting on these events since high school.

The Game, Martin writes, is meant to be the "ultimate test for the Renaissance man or woman. Or just a really good excuse to turn off your Blackberry, forget work, ignore spouses and have a hell-raising good time."

But the 2002 running ended with a tragic accident that left a participant paralyzed.

Continue reading this post ...

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