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November 13, 2012 at 8:38 AM

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Windows president leaving, Microsoft women ascend

Julie Larson Green


Julie Larson-Green in 2009

CEO-in-waiting Steve Sinofsky is out at Microsoft. In a surprise announcement Monday night, the company said the Windows president is leaving. Sinofsky is credited with righting the Windows ship after the Vista debacle to bring Windows 7, then Windows 8 to market.

This news is big. Many thought that Sinofsky was a potential successor to Steve Ballmer as the next chief executive, even though he was known as a difficult person to work with. But the news is equally big that two women have ascended to Ballmer's inner circle. I can see the lights of heaven and hear angels singing.

For awhile now Microsoft has lagged behind Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard in promoting women to key senior leadership positions.

Julie Larson-Green and Tami Reller, who previously reported to Sinofsky, will now report to Ballmer. Larson Green has been promoted to lead all Windows software and hardware engineering. Green is local. She has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Western Washington University and a master's degree in software engineering from Seattle University. She's also a Microsoft lifer, having worked there since 1993.

Reller, the chief financial officer and chief marketing officer, retains her title but will also report to Ballmer. Reller has worked at Microsoft since 2001. She joined Microsoft when it acquired Great Plains Software, where she served as CFO. Her education includes a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Minnesota State University Moorhead and a master's in business administration from St. Mary's College in Moraga, Calif.

Tami Reller


Tami Reller in 2009

Until now, there was only one woman who reported to Ballmer — Lisa Brummel, the chief people officer in charge of human resources. Brummel has a business background and is one of the owners of the Seattle Storm, but putting a woman in charge of HR was not exactly groundbreaking for a business. Microsoft takes hiring and recruiting more seriously than most tech companies (Ballmer once ran college recruiting himself), but hiring is still considered a softer role than coding in Redmond.

Larson-Green's new title is unclear from the company's news statement, but she will lead development for Microsoft's flagship product. The Windows division made $18.4 billion in sales in fiscal year that ended in June. Total sales for the company that year was $73.7 billion, but half of each operating profit dollar was made by the Windows division. As I've said before, Windows is the Ohio of Microsoft. As Windows goes, so goes the rest of the company.

"Leading Windows engineering is an incredible challenge and opportunity, and as I looked at the technical and business skills required to continue our Windows trajectory — great communication skills, a proven ability to work across product groups, strong design, deep technical expertise, and a history of anticipating and meeting customer needs — it was clear to me that Julie is the best possible person for this job, and I'm excited to have her in this role," Ballmer said in a news release.

Reading between the lines, Ballmer singled out for praise all the weaknesses of Sinofsky: the ability to communicate, work with other groups in Microsoft, serving customers.

I don't expect we'll see the slobbery profiles of Larson-Green that we've seen of Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, (which I shamelessly ate up every word of, and then watched her 2011 commencement speech at Barnard) but it's a good day. I'm still waiting for the day when we'll see a female CEO at Microsoft. Yahoo has already done it with former Google vice president Marissa Mayer, and HP hired one in Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO.

In the meantime, I have three words for Larson-Green and Reller: Ball so hard.

Update 10:11 a.m.

The phrase "ball so hard" is a lyric by hip hop artists Kanye West and Jay-Z in a track from the album "Watch the Throne." It is shorthand for being a "baller," like being an NBA basketball player.

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