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June 2, 2014 at 11:58 AM

Microsoft hires former Google technology strategist as chief economist

Microsoft has hired Preston McAfee, former director of Google strategic technologies, as its chief economist, marking the first time the software giant has a full-time, in-house chief economist. 

Preston McAfee, Microsoft's chief economist  (Photo from Microsoft)

Preston McAfee, Microsoft’s chief economist (Photo from Microsoft)

In the position, McAfee will lead a team of economists working on “developing new business models and metrics, designing marketplaces for advertising and apps, assisting with government relations and policy, and developing an economic strategy for the company,” Harry Shum, Microsoft’s executive vice president of technology and research, wrote in a blog post today.

McAfee will report to Shum, and he and his team will work closely with Amy Hood, Microsoft’s chief financial officer, as well as with the company’s business and engineering groups.

It is expected that McAfee and his team will work particularly closely with the Bing, Azure and Windows teams.

Microsoft had previously employed the services of Susan Athey, a Stanford economist, as chief economist — but on an external, consulting basis only. Athey, who has served as the company’s consulting chief economist since 2008, took part in selecting McAfee for the full-time position.

The decision to make the position in-house, along with the creation of a team of economists focused on both research and practical business models, is part of new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s push toward creating a more data-driven culture at Microsoft. Such a culture emphasizes getting more value out of big data — the huge amounts of data being generated by everyone these days — by using that data to improve people’s experiences with technology, as well as making decisions based on analyses of such data.

“Data is a precious resource, and as a company we need to make fewer decisions on intuition and more based on market and other data,” Shum wrote in the blog post today.

Creating the team of economists is also part of Nadella’s focus on finding new business models as the industry evolves.

McAfee had served as chief economist at Yahoo from 2007 to 2012, before joining Google. (Some of the economists he led at Yahoo, coincidentally, are currently working at Microsoft.)

McAfee has also been a professor at the California Institute of Technology and a visiting professor at National University of Singapore, London School of Business, and other institutions. He earned a Ph.D. in economics and M.S. degrees in economics and mathematics from Purdue University; and a B.A. in economics from University of Florida, according to his curriculum vitae.


Comments | More in Microsoft | Topics: big data, chief economist


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