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Microsoft Could Face 'Employee Exodus Of Biblical Proportions' If Turner Is Named CEO

Kevin McLaughlin

Microsoft's board has picked COO Kevin Turner to replace Steve Ballmer as CEO, but he'll only hold that role for two to three years before abdicating it to Nokia CEO Stephen Elop.

This bizarre scenario comes from a Thursday report from the Chinese Windows Phone enthusiast site WPDang, which quoted unnamed sources. WPDang may be treading into tinfoil hat territory here, but this does raise the question of why Turner hasn't been a more high-profile candidate to succeed Ballmer.

Reports surfaced earlier this month that Microsoft has a shortlist of potential Ballmer replacements that includes external candidates like Ford CEO Alan Mulally and Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, as well as three internal candidates.

As Microsoft's COO for the past eight years, Turner would seem to have the inside track to become CEO. But several Microsoft partners told CRN they're hoping the company doesn't pick Turner.

[Related: Report: Elop Would Bring Office To Apple, Google Devices If Named Microsoft CEO ]

While Turner's intense focus on metrics has helped Microsoft's financial performance, his "scorecard" system of ranking employee performance is widely loathed, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Turner's scorecard system will likely be even less popular now that Microsoft has ditched its "stack ranking" system for gauging employee performance, sources told CRN. "If Kevin Turner takes over as CEO, there will be an employee exodus of biblical proportions," said one well-placed source, who requested anonymity.

In Turner's scorecard system, sales managers are measured across some 30 metrics, such as profit and revenue growth and building market share for particular products. A "green" score means good results, "yellow" shows there's room for improvement and "red" indicates the manager isn't cutting it. Microsoft also uses the scorecard to rank partner performance.

Microsoft is getting rid of the stack ranking system, in which employees are ranked on a bell curve and lower performers are often shown the door, to focus more on "teamwork and collaboration," Microsoft HR chief Lisa Brummel said in a memo to employees earlier this week.

This, Brummel said in the memo, will align more closely the cross-team collaboration goals Ballmer laid out as part of the company's "One Microsoft" re-organization in July.

Sources told CRN another reason why Turner wouldn't be a good CEO choice is that he's closely aligned with Ballmer, which means his appointment as CEO wouldn't be warmly welcomed by activist investors pushing for change at the top.

A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on the WPDang report or the concerns about Turner as CEO.

NEXT: Why Turner Is Qualified For The Job

Turner is one of three internal employees on Microsoft's short list of CEO candidates, Bloomberg reported Friday. The others are Satya Nadella, head of the Cloud and Enterprise Engineering Group, and Tony Bates, who leads the Business Development and Evangelism Group.

Turner is certainly qualified for the job. He knows more about the vast scope of Microsoft's business than anyone besides Ballmer, overseeing worldwide sales, services, support and channel partners, software licensing and retail stores.

Turner has also been Microsoft's highest paid executive for the past three straight years, pulling in $10.7 million in fiscal 2012.

When it comes to the channel, however, there are some partners that don't believe Turner always has their best interests at heart.

David Powell, vice president of TekLinks, a Birmingham, Ala.-based Microsoft partner, said Turner's deep knowledge of Microsoft's business is counteracted by his approach to the channel.

"Kevin has no direct experience with partners and has done very little during his tenure to make inroads into the partner community," Powell said in an email. "As a partner, promoting Turner would not give me much confidence that the company would embrace the channel and the partner community."

Elop is also said to be on the short list of CEO candidates, but his track record as Nokia CEO doesn't inspire much confidence that he'll be able to help Microsoft, Jeff Middleton, a Microsoft MVP (Most Valued Professional) partner based in Metairie, La., said in an email.

"His inability to rescue Nokia other than sell it back to Microsoft isn't a reusable strategy this time," Middleton said of Elop. "I'm not sure that Wall Street is going to have faith in his ability to serve Wall Street, and partners are not going to be thrilled with the downsizing Nokia has gone through as a weak outcome of his leadership there."


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