Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Since Microsoft Can't Pick Its Digital Head, BoomTown Does It for Them: Volpi, Smith, Armstrong?

Another week, another nonpick for the still-outstanding position to lead Microsoft’s digital business.

The company has been on the lookout for the person to lead its online efforts ever since the exec formerly in charge, Kevin Johnson, headed out in late July, after the Yahoo takeover bid failed.

At the time, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer promised a quick search for a Web leader the software giant has so sorely needed.

But, apparently, quick means not-so-quick at Redmond HQ, where Ballmer has had a few other things to deal with (like the vagaries of Windows Vista!). So, he has cast about for more than three months, both internally and externally, for the person who will turbocharge Microsoft’s Web efforts.

Sources said Ballmer continues to look for an external candidate to save the day, as he has been, preferring an outsider to give the division some spark.

And, while well-known Internet figures like former Yahoo COO Dan Rosensweig, former AOL head Jon Miller and former Facebook exec Owen Van Natta have all taken a pass, Ballmer is soldiering on.

New prospects include former Cisco exec and current Joost CEO Mike Volpi, sources said, with whom Ballmer is likely to be chitty-chatting next.

BoomTown likes that choice, given Volpi has both technical and deal-making skills, and he is someone well-liked in both media and Internet circles. In fact, Volpi has also been a favorite of Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, who would also dearly love to snag the personable exec.

But Joost, the once-hot online video start-up, has just pushed the restart button with its new flash player, and is hoping to live up to its initial hype, especially in the wake of the success of rival Hulu.

So it is not entirely clear that Volpi would leave at this moment.

Other possible outside digital execs with the right experience are few and far between.

If I was making a list, I would include CBS Digital kingpin Quincy Smith (who probably talks too quickly for Ballmer), as well as Google ad head Tim Armstrong, although both are also unlikely to move from where they are ensconced.

Thus, with so few good choices, it might be that Microsoft (MSFT)–as usual–turns inward.

But even that’s in question, given the prospects of the main internal candidate, Brian McAndrews, who came to Microsoft in its acquisition of aQuantive and runs its online advertising business, seem to have dimmed, sources said. But some caution that McAndrews is not out of the running yet.

The other insider with a chance–Yusuf Mehdi–got the job running MSN and other of Microsoft’s online properties.

He is waiting for the digital uber-boss to lead him, as well as McAndrews and also Satya Nadella, the SVP who heads engineering for Microsoft’s search, portal and advertising platform group.

For now, said one source, that appears to be Ballmer. “He’s going to be the digital chief,” joked one exec. “Until he finds someone he likes just as much.”

In any case, here is a recent interview I did with Volpi in London about Joost’s restart:


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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo