A lot happened at Microsoft this morning. Divisions were dissolved, new ones formed, executives were demoted, promoted and excommunicated. It had all the elements of the “Game of Thrones” TV show on HBO, and Thursday morning was its Red Wedding episode where several major characters were killed in graphic, bloody ways at the end of a wedding banquet. (The actual episode’s name was “The Rains of Castamere.” It’s incredibly violent, but you can watch the final scene on Youtube.)
The fiefdoms we were familiar with — the North, the Wall, the Iron Islands — are gone. Lines have been redrawn all over the map.
One thing is clear. Chief Executive Steve Ballmer remains King of Westeros. He proclaimed this era “One Microsoft” in a memo to employees. (The new tagline actually sounds more “Lord of the Rings” than “Game of Thrones,” but I digress.)
The silos of Windows, Office, Xbox, Bing/MSN and Server software no longer exist. The new territories are called Operating Systems Engineering, Devices and Studios Engineering, Applications and Services Engineering and Cloud and Enterprise Engineering. Engineers are the Lannisters of the new Microsoft.
This change-up is long overdue. Microsoft reorganizes itself every couple years, and it had been some time sine the last major one in 2005. What Microsoft had was not working, either in maintaining ground with Windows 8 or in conquering new territories with the Surface and Windows Phone. This one is actually reminiscent of a Bill Gates period when the company was divided into technology focused groups with names such as platforms and applications and interactive media.
Like the aftermath of the wedding episode, where Robb Stark, his wife Talisa, his mother Catelyn and many of his banner men were slaughtered, things are kind of messy right now. Servants are mopping up blood in the dining hall. From the outside, it just looks like a lot of people will report to Ballmer, but it’s unclear where each product, like Windows or Office, will land.
The title “division president” no longer exists. Some were demoted to executive vice presidents. As a result, the playing field was leveled for two women executives, Julie Larson-Green and Tami Reller. Microsoft’s head of human resources, Lisa Brummel, and the chief financial officer, Amy Hood, were already women. It’s progress for gender equality in Microsoft’s top leadership ranks because the men above them took a step backward, but I’ll take it.
There’s a lot to decipher in the long employee memo. In fact, the memo doesn’t feel at all simple and singular like the phrase “One Microsoft.” The main takeaway:
Going forward, our strategy will focus on creating a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most.
The rest of this post is going to get incredibly geeky, so if you don’t watch “Game of Thrones,” please move on. Also, this video below is also violent, so only press play if you are prepared to see some spearing and dragon breathing:
Julie Larson-Green = Daenarys Targaryen. The former Windows vice president has a high-profile task to lead the Devices and Studios engineering Group. Building devices has not been a strong suit for Microsoft, outside of the Xbox, so she’ll be watched carefully.
Steve Sinofsky = Stannis Baratheon. The former Windows division president had already left Microsoft, but as the one who fixed Windows Vista and shipped the respectable Windows 7, he at one point seemed to be within reach of the throne.
Kurt DelBene = Eddard “Ned” Stark. The former president of the division that made Office software is retiring from Microsoft. DelBene, incidentally, is the spouse of U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash. Craig Mundie, former head of research, is also leaving the senior leadership team to work on a “special project,” but that had been expected.
Don Mattrick = Robb Stark. The head of the division that made Xbox left Microsoft recently to become chief executive of Zynga.
Tami Reller = Margaery Tyrell. The former head of Windows marketing is now head of marketing across the whole company. As Margaery said, “I want to be THE queen.”
Apple Computer = White Walkers. Winter isn’t coming. It’s already here.
I’m interested in hearing which character you think each executive represents. Is Ballmer Joffrey Baratheon or is he Tywin Lannister? Is Bill Gates Tywin? Who is Tyrion Lannister? Jaime Lannister? Brienne of Tarth? Do share in the comments below.