Kara Swisher

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BoomTown Decodes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's Memo on New Digital Guru, Qi Lu (So You Don't Have To)

BoomTown strives to bring readers the very best in internal memo decoding, and this one is just too good to pass up.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer sent a short memo to employees this afternoon about finally hiring someone to head the software giant’s lackluster digital efforts.

That someone, as this column reported earlier today before the official announcement, was former Yahoo (YHOO) tech star Qi Lu. He will become president of the Online Services Group at Microsoft (MSFT), right after the new year.

Thus, let us try to read between the lines:

What Steve wrote: From: Steve Ballmer
Sent: Thursday, December 04, 2008 1:39 PM
To: Microsoft–All Employees (QBDG)
Subject: New Leader of Online Services Group

Search, advertising and online services are critical to Microsoft’s long-term strategy. To succeed, we need the right talent. Today, I’m pleased to announce that Qi Lu will join Microsoft as president of our Online Services Group. Qi will oversee all efforts in search, our online advertising platform, and all of our online information and communications services. Qi will join Microsoft on Jan. 5 and report to me.

Translation: Really, taking five months to pick someone to head Microsoft’s most critical arena for the future is not a long time. If you’re counting in dog years, that is! Woof!

But, I digress, we have a winner and, best of all, he’s from Yahoo, costing us $39.9 billion less than it would have cost to get Lu with the whole company.

What Steve wrote: Qi is one of the most respected technical minds in the industry. He comes to Microsoft after 10 years at Yahoo, where he most recently served as executive vice president of engineering for all of Yahoo’s search and advertising development efforts. Before joining Yahoo, Qi was a researcher at IBM’s Almaden Research Center. He has a doctorate in computer science from Carnegie Mellon, and he holds 20 U.S. patents.

Translation: Did I mention that Lu is from Yahoo? Let me say it again: Yahoo. The YAHOO that refused to take our $31 a share offer. That Yahoo. The Yahoo where–at one time–engineers would never consider leaving the Jedi forces of Silicon Valley to join the Death Star.

Jerry Yang, I am your bother.

Also, did I mention 20 patents?

What Steve wrote: Qi’s combination of deep technical expertise, proven leadership capability and broad business knowledge is rare in our industry. There is no one better qualified to guide our work to reinvent search and online advertising.

Translation: By “reinvent,” I mean, stop the endless flow of cash out of Microsoft pockets, even as Google (GOOG) is minting money in the basement of that irksome Googleplex in the search business.

If Lu manages not to lose, say, $3.23 trillion dollars, I will consider it a job well done!

What Steve wrote: While I’m excited that Qi is joining Microsoft, I’m sorry to share the news that Brian McAndrews has decided to transition out of the company. Brian came to us with the acquisition of aQuantive in 2007. Since then, he has helped build a world-class business in online advertising that provides a solid foundation for future growth. I have great respect for the important contributions Brian has made to Microsoft, and I wish him the very best in the future.

Translation: OK, so I dragged my feet on this selection process long enough to make Brian feel really badly, given he wanted the job too.

But, he’s an “ad” guy and Microsoft’s track record with those who don’t consider pocket protectors the height of fashion is, shall we say, rocky.

But don’t feel bad for Brian–Microsoft bought aQuantive for $6 billion last year, and he was CEO. You do the math.

Of course, it would be deeply ironic if Brian suddenly was in the running for the now-open Yahoo CEO job and I was facing him over the negotiating table over the search deal Microsoft has been salivating over, despite trying to seem only mildly interested.

Brian, honey, don’t take it personally that I went for the geek. It’s in my DNA.

What Steve wrote: On Monday at 4 p.m. Pacific Time, Qi will join me at Café RedWest for an Employee Town Hall. I encourage you to attend or to watch the webcast. If you have questions for Qi or me, please send them in advance to and we’ll try to answer as many as possible.


Translation: Free nachos and unintelligible discussions about algorithms for all!

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