Was Sinofsky's departure a power play by Ballmer?


— 6:00 AM on November 14, 2012

I think we were all surprised to see Windows chief Steven Sinofsky step down on Monday. At the time, some speculated that Sinofsky was let go because he didn't play well with others—the same criticism levied at Apple's Scott Forstall, who resigned as iOS chief under similarly abrupt circumstances last month.

There might have been other factors at play, though.

Forbes Contributor Eric Jackson has an interesting take on Sinofsky's departure. He writes, "There was no failure by Sinofsky in his job duties . . . The only bad thing anyone’s had to say about Sinofsky is that he could be 'prickly.'"

Rather, Jackson views the recent executive shakeup as a power play by Steve Ballmer, who may have felt his position as CEO threatened. CNet News indeed commented on Monday that some had pegged Sinofsky as a "CEO-in-waiting." Jackson summarizes, "Basically, Sinofsky was a threat to Ballmer, so Ballmer eliminated him."

Such a strategy wouldn't be unheard of. John Chambers, who's been at the helm of Cisco for the past 10 years, has "systematically forced out any senior executive that showed potential to perhaps take over," according to Jackson. Ballmer has been Microsoft CEO for 12 years and has worked at the company in various capacities for more than three decades, so he could be even more attached to the job than Chambers.

Of course, Jackon's analysis does have a ring of conspiracy theory to it. Sinofsky sought to curb that kind of speculation in a letter to employees, which was published by Paul Thurrott on Monday evening. In the letter, Sinofsky stated:

Some might notice a bit of chatter speculating about this decision or timing. I can assure you that none could be true as this was a personal and private choice that in no way reflects any speculation or theories one might read—about me, opportunity, the company or its leadership.

Maybe the truth is that simple, and Sinofsky had a personal and entirely reasonable reason to step down. Then again, a power play by Ballmer doesn't seem entirely outside the realm of possibility.

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