CFO Brings Philosophy of Change to Microsoft

By Reuters -  |  Posted 2008-02-08 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Microsoft's decision in 2005 to hire Chris Liddell, a New Zealander working in the paper industry, to fill the company's open job of chief financial officer seemed like an odd choice.

SEATTLE, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Microsoft's decision in 2005 to hire Chris Liddell, a New Zealander working in the paper industry, to fill the company's open job of chief financial officer seemed like an odd choice.

With no background in technology, Liddell joined Microsoft from International Paper at a time when investors were clamoring for the company to loosen the purse strings on its substantial cash holdings and revitalize a stagnant stock.

"If you look at the odds of a New Zealand paper guy coming into Microsoft and prospering, you wouldn't give it a snowball's chance in hell," said Charlie Songhurst, a Microsoft general manager for strategy and M&A who works closely with Liddell.

Once the ultimate outsider, Liddell is taking a leading role in changing Microsoft from within.

In about three years, he has helped transform Microsoft from a miser that socked away money for a rainy day into a spendthrift, and he has successfully challenged the philosophy that Microsoft, given enough time and resources, should build its own technology to take on all comers.

Liddell has completed nearly 50 deals since joining the company in May 2005. His boldest move yet, Microsoft's $41.9 billion offer to buy Yahoo, would use up nearly all of a legendary cash stockpile Liddell inherited.

Those reserves are sure to grow again, but now Liddell wants to issue debt for the first time in Microsoft's 33-year history.

"I believe in being disciplined but aggressive," Liddell described himself by e-mail. Colleagues see a quiet, intense counterpoint to Chief Executive Steve Ballmer's animated aggressiveness, a former rugby player who prepares obsessively and routinely works 100 hours a week.

Avoiding the turf wars that have claimed other outside executives who joined Microsoft, Liddell has won the confidence and the ear of Ballmer and the company's board, and is known as one of the few senior executives ready to meet the rank-and-file for a drink after work.

Analysts praise Liddell for his clean and simple earnings presentations, while Microsoft employees say he is militant in his view that PowerPoint slides should be uncluttered.



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