The mysterious disappearance of the Microsoft Senior Vice Presidents

The mysterious disappearance of the Microsoft Senior Vice Presidents

Summary: Microsoft is eliminating the "Senior Vice President" title across the company. Here's why, according to company officials.

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Titles at Microsoft always are a source of confusion, even for those of us paid to keep tabs on the Softies. But they also are often telling.

In the past couple of weeks, I've been noticing a trend at the company: The Microsoft Senior Vice President title seems to be on its way to becoming an endangered species.

At Microsoft, Senior Vice Presidents have been one level above Corporate Vice Presidents. Within the past few weeks, Microsoft quietly has been shifting the titles of a handful of its top execs from Senior VP to Corporate VP  (or, in a couple of cases, something different). Among those affected: Chris Jones, now Corporate Vice President of Windows Live; Rick Rashid, now listed as Chief Research Officer; Brad Smith, now listed as an Executive Vice President and General Counsel; and Soma Somasegar, newly titled as Corporate VP of the Microsoft Developer Division.

There are still a very few Microsoft execs listed as Senior Vice Presidents on the official Microsoft bio site: Lisa Brummel, head of HR; Chris Capossela, head of central marketing; and Jon DeVaan, head of Windows Development.

A Microsoft spokesperson told me on September 16 that there is a concerted effort to get rid of the Senior VP title and Brummel, Capossela and DeVaan soon would soon become Corporate VPs as well. He said the new titles do not signify demotions or a drop in compensation for anyone affected. He also said there was no connection between Microsoft's recent changes in its review and compensation plan and these title changes.

The official Microsoft statement delivered via e-mail from the aforementioned spokesperson:

"Microsoft has eliminated the title of Senior Vice President. This does not change the level or compensation of any of our executives, it's just part of an ongoing effort to make our title structure as streamlined and consistent as possible.  Streamlining our title system will also make it easier for our senior leaders to move into new roles across the company, as we tackle new opportunities."

Update (September 17): As the spokesperson promised, Brummel, Capossela and DeVaan all now are sporting new titles. DeVaan is a Corporate Vice President now. Brummel is "Chief People Officer." And Capossela is "Chief Marketing Officer."

Topics: Operating Systems, CXO, Legal, Microsoft, Software, IT Employment, Windows

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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22 comments
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  • The next step...

    ...is to drastically reduce the number of vice presidents. The only people in any organization who should carry the title are those who report directly to the president and are authorized to act in his place (probably not more than a dozen in even the largest corporation).
    John L. Ries
  • My guess

    Microsoft adopted a draconian review system this year that benchmarks everyone in the same peer group against a forced scale of 1-5 (5 being bad = no bonus, no stock, no merit). Even if you met all your targets, you can be rated a 5. With only a handful of Senior VPs, this would eliminate a lot of SVPs, fast. I guess they now put SVPs and CVPs in the same peer group and benchmark them against each other.
    Loudcloud
  • Great news

    Now titles have been fixed, the previously near insurmountable barrier of people moving to new roles within the company has been overcome. We can only image how much more productive they'll now become;-)
    Richard Flude
    • You would be surprised. This will make them more productive

      @Richard Flude
      If you study corporate hierarchy you would easily see that by eliminating titles and barriers en route to those that can make dicisions, those dicisions come back at a faster rate, thus becoming more productive.

      I am a bit surprised that one such as you, who claim to be so knowledgable would not see that, and would need someone to explain it to you.

      :|
      Tim Cook
      • RE: The mysterious disappearance of the Microsoft Senior Vice Presidents

        @Mister Spock
        +1
        Ram U
      • RE: The mysterious disappearance of the Microsoft Senior Vice Presidents

        @Mister Spock

        How does a simple change of title with no change in responsibility eliminate barriers?

        "...it???s just part of an ongoing effort to make our title structure as streamlined and consistent as possible"
        msalzberg
      • Studied it for my Masters, live in the real world

        @Mister Spock I'm familiar with the talk, and the real world results. Perhaps you could point to a single theory or empirical evidence supporting the position of titles correlated to productivity. <br><br>If changing titles removes barriers to productivity it would be the easiest method ever to improve it. I'm surprised those of us in management (and at MS) haven't stubbled upon your wonderful idea sooner. <br><br>Awaiting your information, always ready to learn
        Richard Flude
      • RE: The mysterious disappearance of the Microsoft Senior Vice Presidents

        @Mister Spock
        I tend to agree with some of your points. Often times, people get to believing the magnanimous things that titles sometimes imply. Microsoft, while still a big player in the computing business, needs to take the next year of rolling out Windows 8 VERY seriously. Maybe a little title reorganization will freshen things up a bit at Microsoft. Not sure anything will happen FASTER because of it, but just maybe things will happen BETTER because of it.
        jkohut
      • RE: The mysterious disappearance of the Microsoft Senior Vice Presidents

        @Mister Spock

        There was a study at a Kodak product development division where they eliminated all management. Although some of the workers (don't know if these were engineers etc. but I assume so) couldn't bear the increased responsibility and bowed out, productivity soared beyond all expectations. The experiment was shut down in a hurry. I don't have any links (it occurred in the late 80's) but the results were well known in the industry.

        IMO most of the productivity and great ideas come from a few exceptional engineers in a given company/division and often the management will marginalize such individuals lest they outshine management (it's all about ego for most managers).

        Some notable examples would be -

        Steve Jobs did not have the idea for or even initially support the IPOD.
        Lee Iacocca did not invent the idea for the minvan and also did not initially support it.
        alexh1@...
    • RE: The mysterious disappearance of the Microsoft Senior Vice Presidents

      @ alexh1

      I would love to see where this came from. I recall Kodak's apparatus division seeing a 25% bump in productivity after cutting management 30%, but that's not eliminating all management. This was reported in WSJ around 91 or so.

      I'm pretty sure I know what they are doing here, but it's not going to help, since the guy at the top has never truly demonstrated having the horsepower to run an international organization.
      Forrest Christian
  • So what?

    How are the words "Corporate Vice President" different from the words "Senior Vice President". Titles, schmitles. When I quit my last job, the dude in charge was "re-organizing" the place literally once every two weeks. It accomplished nothing except to change the path of paperwork.
    fjpoblam
    • perpetual re-orgs are a way to avoid work and responsibility

      @fjpoblam This way nobody can be held accountable for anything, cause everybody is "new at their job".
      otaddy
    • RE: ...the dude in charge was &quot;re-organizing&quot; the place...

      @fjpoblam

      It is just a ploy to <b>look</b> like he is "doing something". If those above him on the corporate "totem pole" were smart, they would 're-org' him out of the company.
      fatman65536
  • &quot;Chief People Officer&quot;

    I think "Chief People Officer" is the best of all. It just sounds awesome. Awesomely bad, to be exact. :D
    Daniel Breslauer
  • RE: The mysterious disappearance of the Microsoft Senior Vice Presidents

    That is true, but
    terrymccoy354
  • RE: The mysterious disappearance of the Microsoft Senior Vice Presidents

    this is unreal,
    terrymccoy354
  • RE: The mysterious disappearance of the Microsoft Senior Vice Presidents

    I simply can't believe this,
    terrymccoy354
  • RE: The mysterious disappearance of the Microsoft Senior Vice Presidents

    Reorganization and title changes are a great way to stir up enough dust that responsibility for past performance gets lost in the shuffle. There is no better way to hide inept management than declaring a re-org ahead of poor performance results. It's an old trick that seems to continue to fool the masses.
    mryanaz
  • Such nice deck chairs on the Titanic

    Evidently it's time to rearrange them. Now, *that's* progress.
    schmandel@...
  • RE: The mysterious disappearance of the Microsoft Senior Vice Presidents

    Their true secret? VOLUME!
    Mr. Science