The Next CEO Of Microsoft Suddenly No Longer Works At Microsoft

“Floored.” “Wow.” “Wild.”

Those are some of the reactions within Microsoft tonight upon hearing that Windows and Windows Live President Steven Sinofsky would be leaving the company “effective immediately“. Those are the reactions because nearly all Microsoft employees found out about the news tonight alongside the rest of us.

Microsoft and Sinofsky are trying to spin this as a “mutual decision” — and understandably so. That’s how this works. Nearly all of these types of exits are “mutual” until reported otherwise. From my understanding, this is no different. The details will undoubtedly trickle out in the days to come, but based on conversations with no less than a dozen current and former Microsoft employees ranging from mid to high-level, Sinofsky was indeed let go and the decision was made (or finalized) this morning, quickly. The “mutual” stuff is all about letting a longtime lieutenant save face.

But why? That’s the big question that no one seems quite sure about just yet. There are whispers of internal division and strife. I have some other thoughts that may play out over the next few months. But the reality is that we just don’t know right now. The strife card makes sense to play given the recent departure of iOS SVP Scott Forstall from Apple. On the surface (forgive me), there seems to be many parallels. But in a few respects, this Sinofsky situation appears to be almost the opposite of that situation.

The iOS Maps debacle gave Apple some cover to do something they’ve wanted to do for some time: get rid of Forstall. This Sinofsky move is “out of the blue,” as two sources put it. That Microsoft and others can play it off as “this is no different from the recent Apple transition” is convenient, but…

Sinofsky was the guy that nearly everyone I spoke with thought was going to be the next CEO of Microsoft. In fact, many believed he was no-so-secretly being “groomed” for the role. And yet, he now finds himself out of the company.

Many I spoke with thought it was way too early for Surface sales to have anything to do with this exit. The same seems to be true of Windows 8, though the writing may have been a bit more clear on that wall… At the end of the day, this immediate move — and how many things that Microsoft does are immediate? — did not happen for no reason. It just may take some time for that reason to become apparent. But it’s there, right now, in front of us.

Microsoft would not get rid of the “future CEO of the company” on a random night in November after 23 years of service and right after the launch of two key products under his watch for no reason. This is not Apple CEO Tim Cook making a move one year into the job in an attempt to create an operating flow closer to his managerial style. Steve Ballmer has been in charge of Microsoft for nearly 13 years and Sinofsky has been close by for all of those years.

People on the outside thought Scott Forstall had a shot of being the next CEO of Apple, but people on the inside were sure that Steven Sinofsky was going to be the next CEO of Microsoft. Instead, he’s just the latest in a string of executive departures over the past few years. And any spin that this was “planned” or “mutual” reeks of bullshit. Steven Sinofsky is taking the fall for something. (Or something is not being disclosed.) And we’re all going to know what that is soon.

In the meantime, feel free to listen to Sinofsky himself try to pre-empt speculation about his departure:

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.

So, Sinofsky woke up today and decided he didn’t want to be CEO of Microsoft. He decided he wanted to sleep in. Right.

“The next morning, whoever’s sleeping is your man.”