Yesterday Microsoft announced that former Office division president Kurt DelBene is returning as executive VP of corporate strategy and planning. Many people don't realize that Satya Nadella and DelBene worked together for many years, most recently leading the cloud putsch against former CEO Steve Ballmer.
DelBene spent more than 20 years at Microsoft, coming up through the ranks on the Office side of the fence. At various times he ran the Outlook and Exchange efforts, Project, SharePoint, and Groove -- he ran the engineering and development teams for Office 2010 -- and took over all of Office in September 2010 after Stephen Elop left for Nokia.
DelBene's an Office guy through and through, with a very strong tie to the cloud: In 2011 he shipped the original Office 365, a conceptual makeover of the old Business Productivity Online Suite. He's also one of the few Office senior execs of the time who wasn't tainted by association with Steven Sinofsky.
When DelBene was named president of the Office division in September 2010, he joined a very close circle of four senior execs who reported directly to Ballmer. Nadella, then president of the Server and Tools division, was part of that close circle, along with Kevin Turner, Peter Klein, and Amy Hood.
Unlike the others, DelBene and Nadella were the Young Cloud Turks, oozing engineering street cred, and with a distinct cloud bias. Cade Metz at Wired pictured DelBene and Nadella together in 2011, assuaging fears that they were too far out of the mainstream. "We'll support you on-premises. We'll support you in the cloud," DelBene confirmed. They were both at a similar pay grade: In 2013, DelBene made $7.6 million in total compensation; Nadella made $7.7 million.
DelBene left Microsoft in July 2013, shortly after yet another Ballmer re-organization, claiming that he was going to "retire." Julie Bort at Business Insider called DelBene's departure "one of the most shocking bits of news about Microsoft's reorganization… his exit was described as a 'surprise' by several former Microsoft employees we talked to… One reason DelBene may have wanted to retire was that his wife Suzan DelBene, also a former Microsoft exec, was elected to the U.S. Congress in 2012. She's living half the year in Washington, D.C. on the other coast from Seattle."
DelBene went on to a tough job on the east coast: In December 2013, he picked up the pieces of the government's HealthCare.gov website and turned it around. Then, in September 2014, he became a venture partner at Madrona Venture Group, which is based in Seattle. Apparently his ties with Madrona continue.
Mark Penn, the Scroogled guy, drops the title chief strategy officer, which he acquired 13 months ago, and now becomes chief insight officer at Microsoft. With the U.S. presidential race finally in full swing, you have to wonder if he longs to return to the Clinton campaign effort. Perhaps he's already dreaming up negative ad campaigns.
Eric Rudder, who had the title executive VP of advanced strategy, becomes executive VP of advanced technology and education. I don't read anything into either title change -- and still wonder how long both will last at Microsoft.
DelBene has a reputation for being a straight shooter and a highly respected engineer. That bodes well for Nadella's now-16-strong group of insiders, the so-called Senior Leadership Team.