Sources: Microsoft COO Kevin Turner Really Wants To Be A CEO


Microsoft COO Kevin Turner, who was passed over for top spot in favor of Satya Nadella, would jump at the opportunity to be CEO at another company, sources close to Microsoft told CRN this week.

"If Kevin has the chance to be CEO of a company, I think he'd be out of Seattle like a lightning bolt," one insider told CRN. "That's what he wants to do."

Sources told CRN Turner, who's credited with bringing financial discipline and rigor to Microsoft's sprawling operations during his eight years at the company, would be a great fit as CEO of FedEx, Memphis, Tenn.

[Related: Microsoft's App Dev Partners Hoping For Regime Change Under Nadella]

FedEx's legendary founder, Chairman and CEO Fred Smith is in the midst of a campaign to cut $1.7 billion in costs at the company by 2015, and he has given no indication that he intends to retire anytime soon. But FedEx's lack of a clear leadership succession plan has been a concern for some investors. Last November, activist investor Dan Loeb took a stake in FedEx, raising questions about whether he might push for change at the top.

One Wall Street analyst told CRN that while Smith has many strengths, cost cutting isn't one of them. "He has a reputation for taking care of people well, even when they should be laid off," said the source, who requested anonymity because he's not authorized to speak publicly about company matters.

A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on whether Turner has talked with FedEx about joining the company, citing company policy of not responding to rumors or speculation. FedEx spokespeople didn't respond to a request for comment.

On Wednesday, a source familiar with Turner's plans told CRN he's staying on at Microsoft. Bloomberg BusinessWeek quoted an unnamed source Tuesday saying that Turner intends to remain with the company.

Whether Turner will stay or go has been the subject of persistent speculation since he was passed over for the CEO job earlier this week in favor of Nadella, a 22-year Microsoft veteran. Turner was considered former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's right hand man, and Ballmer often referred to Turner as "my guy."

Nadella, in a Tuesday webcast held to announce his appointment, called out Turner by name as an example of Microsoft's "fantastic leadership team." Turner was seated in the front row, and his fit, clean-shaven appearance had some viewers wondering on Twitter if this might be more than a coincidence.

Some partners told CRN they'd be glad to see Turner leave. They blame Turner for Microsoft's cloud incentive fee cuts for partners, as well as other unpopular channel-related moves such as limiting Surface distribution to a small set of partners.

"Turner's relentless focus on cost cutting has been tremendously negative for partners," one source told CRN. "It has reduced job satisfaction of employees and impacted Microsoft's revenue by reducing partner loyalty and keeping expense budgets so low that field personnel are spending less time in front of clients."

Microsoft's stance is that channel decisions are made by committee and aren't driven by any individual executive. In an emailed statement, a Microsoft spokesperson described Turner as a "strong advocate" for partners who meets with thousands of partners every year.

"Kevin is passionate about ensuring there is a healthy and thriving partner ecosystem for years to come. He has been vocal about the need for partners to evolve their own business models -- just as Microsoft has had to do -- to keep up with changing trends, such as cloud services," the spokesperson said.

With Nadella settling into the CEO role, Microsoft wants its senior leadership team to present a unified front to Wall Street, so Turner will probably stick around for a while. But executives with his skills and reputation aren't easy to find. If Turner wants to be CEO at another company, he'll no doubt have plenty of opportunities.

PUBLISHED FEB. 6, 2014