The Microsoft revolving door: Former Powerset CEO has left the building

The Microsoft revolving door: Former Powerset CEO has left the building

Summary: Microsoft acquired natural-language search vendor Powerset in 2008. On September 5, Powerset's CEO left Microsoft to become an angel investor.

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Another big-name defection from Microsoft this week: Barney Pell.

Pell may not be a household name, but he is to those following the twists and turns of Microsoft's search business. As Pell's LinkedIn profile notes, he joined Microsoft when the Softies bought his startup, Powerset. His last official title at Microsoft seems to be "Chief Architect for Local Search."

Pell tweeted on September 6 that yesterday was his last day and that he's now "back to full-time angel investor and parallel entrepreneur!"

"While at Microsoft, I was a Partner-level executive strategist, evangelist, architect, and development manager for Bing. Key contributions included: Influenced strategy across a spectrum of Bing feature areas, evangelized Bing to US and international audiences, led the development of Microsoft's Online Systems Division's long range plan for natural language, semantics and knowledge technology, led development for Bing Local/Mobile Search, and created a search quality initiative that became an institution," Pell's LinkedIn bio reads.

According to LinkedIn, Pell left Microsoft in September 2011, three years and a month after joining the company.

Powerset was a natural-language search vendor that Microsoft acquired (after much rumor and speculation) in July 2008 for an undisclosed amount. (The rumored value of the transaction was as high as $100 million. Some even called Microsoft's purchase of Powerset its "Plan B" after its original proposal to buy Yahoo was scuttled.)

Powerset "used a sophisticated natural language parser (licensed from Xerox PARC) to find subjects, verbs, objects, synonyms, and other elements for indexing," explained a blog post on News.com from 2008. "Powerset differs from the Google in that it extracts and indexes concepts, relationships, and meaning, rather than keywords. It's able to create connections and pivot in some cases in ways that elude Google's proficient engine, which favors more of a statistical approach," the post added.

Microsoft officials, including CEO Steve Ballmer, have been trumpeting Bing's ability to support complex natural-language commands using speech. Realization of this goal may still be another three to five years out, however.

Again, as I've wondered aloud in several recent posts on various Microsoft defections, what gives? Why are folks jumping ship now (besides the oft-cited stock-vesting reasons)? One of my readers with good knowledge of Microsoft's inner-workings had an interesting theory.

"The opportunities for (Microsoft internal) Partners and CVPs (Corporate Vice Presidents) is shrinking, in large part because some of (Windows Chief) Steven Sinofsky's philosophies are being adopted across the company. One, for example, is the continuing elimination of the GM (General Manager) and PUM (Product Unit Manager) roles in favor of the discipline directors reporting to the CVP, SVP, or even President level," my contact said.

This means that specialists are becoming favored over generalists, and "anyone wanting to 'own' something inside Microsoft is out of luck," my contact said..

Like I said: It's one theory. Make of it what you will....

(Thanks to @pradeepviswav for the heads-up on Pell's departure.)

Topics: Microsoft, Social Enterprise

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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21 comments
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  • RE: The Microsoft revolving door: Former Powerset CEO has left the building

    That doesn't necessarily sound like a bad thing...maybe the teams will have a more unified vision and work together better...seems like some teams there don't communicate across the org very well. I'm sure that happens in very large organizations. The thing is, MS has been a large organization for many years and has managed to handle it pretty well.

    Apple and Google, on the other hand seem to be going through the growing pains Microsoft has already passed through and the jury is still out on how well they will handle their success.
    gomigomijunk
    • Rose colored glasses

      @gomigomijunk ... "Apple and Google, on the other hand seem to be going through the growing pains Microsoft has already passed through"

      What 'pain' is Apple going through? Apple has redefined computing, built a mobile platform that everyone is adopting, which by itself is generating whole new classes of technology.

      Microsoft is taking the money made by Windows and Office and spending it on Zunes and Kins and Bing and WP7's.

      Apple market cap: 352.05B
      MSFT market cap: 213.73B

      Tell me again about this Apple 'pain'.

      Steve Ballmer didn't exactly set the world on fire, did he.
      HollywoodDog
      • RE: The Microsoft revolving door: Former Powerset CEO has left the building

        Well, he could be referring to the change in CEO. I have yet to see how that has effected Apple's products, since he hasn't been around for long.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • Don't understand that

        @HollywoodDog ... here this article is about a 'revolving door' at Microsoft. The change of CEO at Apple has nothing to do with growing pains, but rather with Steve Jobs' reported ill health.

        Microsofts pains are all to evident; aging product line, nothing promising in the pipeline, pet projects like Bing losing money hand over fist, lowest Windows market share in 20 years, total failure to participate in the mobile computing/smartphone market.
        HollywoodDog
      • RE: The Microsoft revolving door: Former Powerset CEO has left the building

        @HollywoodDog Azure, Office 365, Kinect, Windows 8, SQL Denali, Dynamics online...yeah, nothing at all promising in the pipeline.
        goombawa
      • RE: The Microsoft revolving door: Former Powerset CEO has left the building

        @HollywoodDog Redefined what computing??

        Macs are still at 6% and don't even think bout talking bout iPad (which is only a iTouch on steroids). They make 99.9% percent of their money off of iTouches, iPhones, iPads, Apps, and music...
        khingjay
      • And you skip the rose colored glasses and go straight to blinders

        @HollywoodDog
        Seriouslly, you act as though your posts mean something?
        ;)
        William Farrell
      • HollywoodDog, he who eyes but can not see

        @HollywoodDog
        you are to be pitied.

        Sorry, but your seething hatred of MS doesn't allow for the truth.

        rejuvinated product line (Windows 7 outsold every other OS...combined), promising new version in the pipeline (Windows 8 gets more talk then Android these days), pet projects like Bing growing, highest Windows market share in 20 years, and a new phone OS that Nokia saw as the most capable OS for mobile computing/smartphone market.

        Maybe you'll get a clue, though if you hate MS as much as you do, people that tell the truth probally piss you off to no end.

        (I wish I could say I'm sorry, but to busy laughing at your posts anymore)
        William Farrell
      • Pick up a newspaper

        @HollywoodDog ...

        AUGUST 15, 2011
        Microsoft Faces the Post-PC World
        Now 25 Years Old, Windows Sales Slow as iPad Gains; Lowest Market Share in Two Decades?82%
        The Wall Street Journal
        ...
        "By one researcher's measure, Windows share of the PC market in the latest quarter was at its lowest level in two decades."

        http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903885604576486343139938136.html#ixzz1XJs3sMGn
        HollywoodDog
  • RE: The Microsoft revolving door: Former Powerset CEO has left the building

    How comes that all the ceo are leaving when big tings shuld happen. yahoo ceo this guy from microsoft also, i mean whats going on with them. Microsoft should come up with some idea about <a href="http://betawindows8.com">Windows 8 beta</a>
    ceva90
    • RE: The Microsoft revolving door: Former Powerset CEO has left the building

      @ceva90 All your base are belong to us?
      TGGR
  • Surprising Why?

    Someone sells their company for a nice chunck of change and doesn't want to work the corporate grind after the golden handcuffs are lifted on the acquisition contract. This is surprising why?
    backcountry33
    • RE: The Microsoft revolving door: Former Powerset CEO has left the building

      Yeah, there's that. But there do seem to be a lot of people heading for the exits. This is starting to smell like the Last Days Of Carly Fiorina, when in order to deflect blame for the slow growth and poor share price she started shooting vice presidents. And then one day the bell tolled for her.

      We may be witnessing the tail end of the Ballmer years.
      Robert Hahn
      • RE: We may be witnessing the tail end of the Ballmer years.

        @Robert Hahn

        <b>Nooooooooo!</b>

        We ABMers (Always Bash Microsoft) just shudder at the thought of Ballmer's replacement.

        Who knows, Microsoft might actually <i>get some one who knows <b>what the f---</b> they are doing!!</i>



        (/sarcasm)
        fatman65536
      • Not really. When you look at the industry as a whole

        @Robert Hahn
        you see this is normal no matter what company. Look at all the people who have left Google in the last 24 months.

        But when you compare it to a company that is already structured the why MS is headed, then it looks abnormally high turn over rate.

        I guess people see what they want for the reasons that they want
        William Farrell
    • RE: The Microsoft revolving door: Former Powerset CEO has left the building

      @backcountry33 I was just about to post the same thing.

      Mary-Jo, you're not a newbie. Haven't you learned about buy-outs ????

      The buy-out was for significant dollars. Most every one of these deals have staged payouts when 1 or more of the top guys are required to stick around. While the percentages are different in every deal (some $$ at the beginning and some $$ each year), the vast majority are fully paid out in 3 years.

      3 years plus a few days and the guys who were contractually required to stick around to get all their money are GONE.

      No revolving door. NORMAL COURSE OF BUSINESS.
      Regulator1956
  • RE: The Microsoft revolving door: Former Powerset CEO has left the building

    People come and go from companies all the time. This guy is leaving to make more money from investing. Nothing out of the ordinary.
    LoverockDavidson_-24231404894599612871915491754222
  • RE: The Microsoft revolving door: Former Powerset CEO has left the building

    I just got a $829.99 iPad2 for only $103.37 and my mom got a $1499.99 HDTV for only $251.92, they are both coming with USPS tomorrow. I would be an idiot to ever pay full retail prices at places like Walmart or Bestbuy. I sold a 37" HDTV to my boss for $600 that I only paid $78.24 for. I use http://bit.ly/grab1002
    charlesreese
    • you and your mom should stop spaming in here!

      @charlesreese
      jk_10
    • RE: stop spamming

      @charlesreese

      You know, I wish a bolt of lightning would fly out of the clouds, and turn your computer into a piece of charred junk. And, here is to hoping that you are sitting in front of it when it happens.
      fatman65536