Sinofsky Departure From Microsoft Mirrors Forstall Firing by Apple

The departure of key Microsoft executive Scott Sinofsky mirrors to a remarkable degree software guru Scott Forstall’s exit from Apple.

Apple and Microsoft strangely paralleled each other the evening of Nov. 12, when the latter announced the departure of Steve Sinofsky, its president of Windows and Windows Live, effective immediately.

In recent weeks, both companies made long-awaited product introductions that were quickly followed by the departure of a key executive behind the launch. Apple announced Oct. 29 that Scott Forstall, who ran software development for Apple up through the launch of the iOS 6–running iPhone 5, "will be leaving Apple."

Apple called its staffing changes a move to "increase collaboration," but the news media quickly filled in the picture, reporting that Forstall had been fired after refusing to publicly apologize for failings in the iOS 6 Maps app. Forstall was widely described as a successor of sorts to the late Steve Jobs but also as—to quote The New York Times' description, which was kinder than others'—an "ambitious and divisive" executive.

Some might say the same of Sinofsky, who was similarly thought of as a possible successor to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Analyst Ezra Gottheil, with Technology Business Research, likened Sinofsky to the football coach Bill Parcells.

"Bill has a history of taking teams to the Super Bowl for the first time and then being booted off of the team," Gottheil told eWEEK. "The thing was, he had a system—a domineering, abrasive, goal-oriented system, and it worked. But it wasn't sustainable. It would tear a team apart."

What Sinofsky pulled off, using by what most accounts was an unsettling work style, was necessary for Microsoft and the work he did was at the heart of the business—"the major revenue generators and almost everything else spins off of that," Gottheil continued, adding that a likely reason for Sinofsky's abrupt departure is that "he demanded something and Ballmer said no."

"It certainly is usual to see someone at Sinofsky's level, who's responsible for so much of the strategy, to depart with no transition and with a sense of immediacy—not unheard of, but usual," said Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg.

"What matters more, though, is what Microsoft does next, now that he's gone. .... They've just launched one of the biggest launches [ever], so now it's about executing, getting customers aware of the products, using the products, buying the products. The real work has just started…"

As for Sinofsky's side of the story, he says that after 23 years of working at Microsoft on a range of products, it was time to "seek new opportunities that build on these experiences"

In a company-wide email sent out the evening of Nov. 12, according to Forbes, Sinofsky added, "I've always advocated using the break between product cycles as an opportunity to reflect and to look ahead, that applies to me too."

Neil Mawston, an executive director at Strategy Analytics, offered eWEEK an explanation, while again tying together the rivals.

"Career frustrations could be among the causes of [the] departure. We think Mr. Sinofsky may have left because his chances of taking the top CEO role at Microsoft were slim in the near-term. Mr. Ballmer, the current CEO, has a tight grip on Microsoft and he doesn’t appear to want to loosen the grip anytime soon," Mawston told eWEEK by email.

"Mr. Sinofsky’s departure," he added, "may tempt Scott Forstall from Apple to look more closely at the career opportunities at Microsoft."

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