David Cole, Senior VP MSN & Personal Services Group, leaves the company

David Cole, who has been with Microsoft for nearly 20 years, and the MSN division for the last 6, announced to employees Friday that he will be taking a 1 year sabbatical in April. In the e-mail, Cole says he doesn't know if he will return to the company after that year, but says he needs "to recharge and figure out what is next."

On a personal note, I have met the man twice and he's been an excellent speaker and listener. It's clear he has excelled MSN into a competitive and profitable Internet business. He will certainly be missed.

It appears that Cole has lost some weight, and I wonder if his job has been more stressful than the past. Some sites are reporting that in fact he was forced out by Kevin Johnson, after MSN was restructured with Windows, for which Johnson is currently Co-President with Jim Allchin; Allchin will be retiring at the end of 2006. Cole tried to address speculation that Johnson or Ballmer forced him out, saying "My Leave of Absence is a personal decision I made on my own." Yusuf Mehdi, Senior Vice President, MSN Information Services, is also supposedly going to be forced out, but only time will tell. It seems that perhaps, with the recent appointment of John Nicol, General Manager of MSN, that there may in fact be a RedWest shakeup.

Read more for the full e-mail, and more news coverage: 'MSN executive to take leave', 'Microsoft's MSN leader is leaving'

@Matthew

From: David Cole
Sent: Friday, February 17, 2006 9:02 AM
To: MSN & Personal Services (WW FTE's Only)
Cc: Executive Staff
Subject: David Cole

I want to let you know about a personal decision I’ve made to take some time off.

To begin, I want to stress how strongly I believe in what we are doing here in MSN, and what the company is doing overall. These are exciting times for Microsoft and the MSN team. I’m thrilled about our Windows Live strategy and progress, and how we are investing in MSN.com. The progress we are making across the business is truly amazing and I am so very proud of all that our team has accomplished. We are competing hard in what I believe is the most exciting segment in the technology industry. We’re investing heavily to win, we've got a strong set of leaders, we've got the right strategy, and the company is backing us to win while transforming itself to become a leading software services provider to all customers. And I want to point out explicitly that I believe in our alignment with the Windows team under Kevin's leadership of PSD.

But after nearly 20 years at Microsoft, including 6+ years in the MSN division, I have decided to take some down time. I won't be going anywhere right away and I’m committed to continue leading the division to help Kevin develop a solid transition plan. I expect to stay on through April, at which point I'll take a 1-year Leave of Absence. During my remaining time on the job, I'll make sure our strategy is clear, that we are invested at levels to win, that we are off to a good start on FY07 planning, and that there is a good leadership transition.

Obviously, this is not a decision I am making lightly. I love to work, interact with smart people, and have an impact. But during the past 18 months, I've been contemplating what to do with the second half of my career – and I've been so busy that I still don't have the answer. Taking this leave will give me the time needed to recharge and figure out what is next for me. My initial plan is to spend more time with my family (whether they like it or not), catch up on personal projects, recreate a lot more in the outdoors, and do other recharging-type activities. I also will take time to explore the breadth of what the world has to offer and decide on the type of work I want to commit myself to for the next 10, 15, or 20 years.

As I think back over the past 20 years, I can still vividly remember my first job in Product Support in 1986 when I was answering phone calls from customers. That was an incredible starting point for me as I learned from the customer point of view. From there, I had the opportunity to participate and lead aspects of some world-changing projects like Windows 3.0, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Internet Explorer, Windows CE, and now MSN and Windows Live. Throughout that time, I've had the privilege of working with an incredible number of smart and talented people. It's been a complete thrill ride that’s allowed me to continually pursue my passion. The support I've gotten from all across the company — at all levels — has been astounding.

I’m sure there will be some speculation about why I’m taking a break now – I have a great job at an amazingly exciting time in the company’s history. And since I know this might not make immediate sense to some, I want to directly address a few of the obvious speculations head on:

Did Kevin or Steve ask me to leave? No. Both Kevin and Steve made it clear they prefer that I stay in a leadership role in MSN. My Leave of Absence is a personal decision I made on my own.

Do I not like being part of PSD or Kevin's org? Quite the opposite is true. I can take some credit for helping get the MSN organization aligned more closely with the Windows organization to execute on our Windows Live strategy. Kevin is a tremendous leader and I have great respect for him. We’re poised for success and if this were a different point in my career, I would absolutely be staying.

Have I lost confidence in MSN's ability to win? Ha! Not even close. While our progress in the market doesn't completely show it yet, I feel strongly that our strategy, our investments, and our leadership is on track to get us to a winning market position. It's a matter of timing and execution. I definitely would not be taking a break if I thought things were headed in the wrong direction — that’s not my style. I’m choosing to take a break precisely because we are headed in the right direction with great momentum.

There is never a good time for a transition like this to happen. But I feel that the division is in really good shape from a strategy, leadership, and investment level point of view. We just need to go get it done, and that is happening across the division at all leve
ls. I will be working closely with Kevin to figure out the transition plan for new leadership and until that plan is announced, you can count on me through April as you always have.

To close, I want to thank all of you for your ideas, your support and your hard work in MSN. We’ve made incredible progress and I want to encourage you to keep innovating, growing the business, and satisfying customers. There is an exciting future ahead with Windows Live and MSN, and I know I will hear and read great things about this group as the year unfolds.

Keep up the great work!

David