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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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June 15, 2009 2:34 PM

Microsoft news roundup: Bill Gates tie-less, cell phones cut, Google on Bing

Posted by Sharon Chan

Some bits and bytes on Microsoft from around the country:

New York Post says Google's co-founder Sergey Brin has a team of engineers dissecting Bing, Microsoft's newly upgraded search engine. Early data after Bing's launch at the beginning of June show that traffic numbers have improved for Microsoft's search operation.

MocoNews says Microsoft has stopped reimbursing employees for their BlackBerry and iPhone plans, unless they switch to a Windows Mobile device. We ran a New York Times story today on how even discretionary spending shrinks elsewhere, smartphone sales are projected to go up by 25 percent this year. And on the other end of the spectrum, here's another story we ran today about how the poor are using a federal government telecom subsidy for cell phones.

Seattle Examiner reports that Bill Gates shocked Cambridge when he showed up to receive an honorary degree without a tie. Which would make news only in England.

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Bing , Employee benefits , Google , Microsoft , Mobile , News roundup , Windows Mobile |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 31, 2009 7:14 AM

Programming note: Microsoft health plan to be featured on Frontline

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft's gold-plated health insurance plan will be featured during PBS' news magazine "Frontline" tonight at 9 p.m. on KCTS channel 9. The episode, "Sick Around America," focuses on the broken U.S. health care system and how rising unemployment is leaving more people without coverage. Microsoft appears to be included as an example of American health care at its best. From a release previewing the episode:

"For Microsoft employee Mark Murray and his wife, Melinda, their employee health plan paid for eight years of fertility treatments and covered all the costs of a very complicated pregnancy. "If it wasn't for our health insurance," Murray says, "we wouldn't have a baby boy right now." The Murrays' medical bills totaled between $500,000 and $1 million, and their plan covered every penny."

You can watch a trailer of the episode here.

Comments | Category: Employee benefits , Public policy & issues |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 26, 2009 5:55 AM

Microsoft temps face 10 percent pay cut

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The thousands of contractors who work at Microsoft through third-party agencies are facing pay cuts beginning Monday, as Microsoft continues to look for ways to cut costs.

Microsoft and its contracting agencies agreed to a 10 percent cut in the bill rate, impacting all temporary worker assignments. Several contract employees have said the reduction is being passed on to them in the form of a pay cut. One person said some agencies are seeking to pass deeper pay cuts onto their workers. Several contractors contacted The Seattle Times, asking for anonymity for fear that speaking out would jeopardize their jobs.

The 10 percent cut is for existing contracts. New contracts will have a 15 percent reduction in the rate.

The cuts are not a complete surprise, as Microsoft had been trimming its contract work force even before it announced layoffs of 1,400 full-time employees Jan. 22 -- the first major job reduction in company history. At that time, the company also said it intended to cut spending on contractors by up to 15 percent.

Another contractor said the cuts impact so-called "a-dash" employees, also known as contingent staff. It's not immediately clear if "v-dash" employees, who are vendors, are facing similar cuts.

Notification of some contract employees began Tuesday. Microsoft does not disclose how many contractors it employs. These workers staff reception desks, test software, provide specialized consulting services and perform other functions that keep the company running through outside agencies. Sid Parakh, analyst at McAdams Wright Ragen, has estimated the figure to be around 40,000.

Continue reading this post ...

Comments | Category: Compensation , Corporate organization , Employee benefits , Microsoft layoffs , Tech Economy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 23, 2009 4:04 PM

Microsoft employees gave $87.7 million to charity last year

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Nearly 60 percent of Microsoft's U.S. employees gave to charity through part of the company's corporate philanthropy program in 2008, it announced today. Counting matching donations from Microsoft, the company's employees gave a record $87.7 million to the cause of their choice last year. The company matches employee giving dollar-for-dollar up to $12,000 a year.

On average, U.S. Microsoft employees contributed on average about $1,523 each -- counting the company match. That's based on a U.S. work force of 57,588 as of Dec. 31.

Continue reading this post ...

Comments | Category: Employee benefits , Philanthropy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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?

Comments | Category: Compensation , Corporate culture , Corporate governance , Employee benefits , Microsoft layoffs |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 23, 2009 5:15 AM

Microsoft news roundup: New work force training program; Severance benefits overpaid; More than half of Xbox 360 users pay for Live subscription

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft on Sunday launched Elevate America, a multi-part work force training effort starting in partnership with three states, including Washington. The program, billed as an expansion of existing job-training efforts, "provides immediate support in response to the current economic crisis," the company said in a statement. Starting immediately, job seekers can learn what skills they need for technology jobs and how to get them at a new Web site that starts with the basics, such as sending e-mail, and moves up to specific Microsoft programs. The three-year effort also includes vouchers for access to the company's eLearning courses and selected certification exams. See this story by my Seattle Times colleague Linda Shaw for more details.

Continue reading this post ...

Comments | Category: Compensation , Employee benefits , News roundup , Public policy & issues , Xbox 360 |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 12, 2009 7:28 PM

Microsoft's new Online boss gets 390,422 shares, vesting over 4 years

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Qi Lu, the Yahoo executive lured by Steve Ballmer to head Microsoft's Online Services Group, was awarded 390,422 shares of company stock Wednesday, according to this SEC filing. The shares will vest as follows over the next four years: "20% on January 5, 2010, 20% on January 5, 2011, 20% on January 5, 2012, and 40% on January 5, 2013, subject to continued employment." At Wednesday's closing price of $19.21 a share, the award is worth $7.5 million. Lu owned 200 shares before the award, according to a separate SEC filing.

Comments | Category: Compensation , Employee benefits , Online services , Yahoo |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 3, 2009 5:29 AM

Report: IBM offering to relocate laid off workers to India, China, Brazil

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

InformationWeek, citing an internal document, reports that IBM is helping recently laid off workers find positions with the company overseas. From the document:

"IBM has established Project Match to help you locate potential job opportunities in growth markets where your skills are in demand. Should you accept a position in one of these countries, IBM offers financial assistance to offset moving costs, provides immigration support, such as visa assistance, and other support to help ease the transition of an international move."

Continue reading this post ...

Comments | Category: China , Coming and going , Compensation , Employee benefits , India , Public policy & issues , Tech Economy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 22, 2009 8:39 PM

Severance and benefits for laid off Microsoft employees

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft is trying to ease the blow of layoffs to 1,400 people who were notified today. Their job responsibilities end Friday and, according to a WARN notice filed with the state, their layoff will be official on March 23. "The adjustments announced today impact Microsoft's global operations, so employee Notification and the last day for individuals outside of the US will vary based on local laws," a spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

Continue reading this post ...

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October 1, 2008 7:30 AM

Update: Microsoft campus expansion on track as employment growth continues; campus sports bar confirmed

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Driven out Highway 520 lately? That big cluster of buildings running west of the freeway to 148th Avenue Northeast and along Northeast 40th Street, they weren't there a year ago.

That's Microsoft's huge west campus expansion, announced in early 2006, taking shape. The growth spurt, laid out in what the company thought would be a 15- to 20-year plan, is on schedule for completion next year.

The cluster of nature-themed buildings meant to house Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division have been built over a huge underground parking garage, five levels deep. Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos said the garage will be ready for cars in February. The first new building is on track for occupancy in March 2009, with the last one scheduled for July 2009.

Continue reading this post ...

Comments | Category: Employee benefits , Real estate and facilities , Recruiting |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 29, 2008 7:13 AM

On the radar: Microsoft proxy statement

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

I'm out of the office this week, so posting will be lighter than normal. But this site will not be dormant, so keep checking in. I have prepared a series of posts updating stories from the last year and pointing out upcoming events. My editor, Mark Watanabe, will also contribute links to interesting stories that pop this week and items from my colleague Brier Dudley.

For starters: Microsoft has filed each of its last four proxy statements between Sept. 20 and Oct. 4, so the annual SEC filing should arrive any day this week. (You can check for it here.)

Continue reading this post ...

Comments | Category: Corporate governance , Employee benefits , Financial |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 25, 2008 2:06 PM

Microsoft tweaks executive compensation, amends bylaws

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft executives will share in a new compensation plan worth up to $238 million $94.2 million, based on the company's forecast for fiscal year 2009 revenue operating income.

The new plan, announced this afternoon in a filing with the SEC, replaces the existing annual cash bonus and equity award programs for the company's executive officers beginning with fiscal year 2009.

More details, from the filing: The Compensation Committee of Microsoft's board of directors can establish award programs linked to "performance periods" of "one or more fiscal years." Participating executive officers get a fixed share of an "incentive pool." For fiscal year 2009, which began July 1, "awards will be granted from an incentive pool with maximum funding of 0.35 percent of Microsoft's fiscal year 2009 corporate operating income."

Based on Microsoft's forecasts for fiscal year 2009 revenue, that pool would have between $235.6 million and $238.4 million, by my calculations. Based on Microsoft's forecasts for fiscal year 2009 operating income, that pool would have between $92.1 million and $94.2 million.

More details:

"Awards may be further reduced or eliminated in the discretion of the Compensation Committee (or in the discretion of the Board of directors, for awards to the Company's chief executive officer, Steven A. Ballmer). The Plan specifies a maximum amount of $20,000,000 that may be paid under the Plan to a participating executive officer for one or more performance periods that end during a fiscal year. Award amounts under the Plan may be made in either or both stock awards issued under the Microsoft Corporation 2001 Stock Plan and cash. Vesting of stock awards will be determined by the Compensation Committee. The 2001 Stock Plan generally requires that stock awards vest over at least a three-year period."

I'm checking on how many executives this applies to. A past Microsoft executive compensation plan, outlined in 2006, went to the most senior 1.3 percent of the company, or about 900 people. The award under that plan was 37 million shares of company stock over three years.

(Update, 6:20 p.m.: The new plan applies to the company's eleven most senior employees:

-- Steve Ballmer, chief executive officer, (although given his large ownership of Microsoft stock, Ballmer does not receive equity compensation).

-- Ray Ozzie, chief software architect.
-- Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer.
-- Chris Liddell, chief financial officer.
-- Kevin Turner, chief operating officer.
-- Brad Smith, general counsel.
-- Lisa Brummel, senior vice president, human resources.
-- Robbie Bach, president, Entertainment and Devices Division.
-- Stephen Elop, president, Microsoft Business Division.
-- Bob Muglia, senior vice president, Server and Tools business. (Note, my earlier report omitted this name.)
-- The yet-to-be named president of the Platforms and Services Division is the eleventh plan participant.

More information on the group is available here).

At the same time, Microsoft amended its corporate bylaws, primarily relating "to the requirements for advance notice and additional information that a shareholder must provide when making a director nomination or proposal at the Company's annual meeting of shareholders."

I'll update later with more on the new compensation plan and bylaws changes.

Comments | Category: Corporate governance , Corporate organization , Employee benefits , Financial |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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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