Kara Swisher

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Live From Redmond: Kiwi-Cute Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell, Plus Ray Ozzie Apperates

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As the wind-up act for the Financial Analyst Day at Microsoft today, its CFO, Chris Liddell, took the stage to try to put a shine on weak financial results that the software giant recently reported.

“So, what genetic disposition do you need to be a CFO? Essentially, you need to be miserable, you need to be the sort of person who takes drinks away from people at the end of a party,” said Liddell. “So, you know, my colleagues who have been giving you drinks all day, have told me to come out here and take most of them away from you.”

This was an unusually charming opening for typically dull CFOs, made even more so since it was delivered in Liddell’s jaunty New Zealand-Hobbit accent, which turns words like “share” into “sheeaar” and “schedule” into “shed-you-all.”

But no matter how cute the delivery, Liddell could not make the recent financial performance at Microsoft (MSFT) look adorable. The company missed revenue estimates by $1 billion in its most recent quarter.

Said Liddell: “And, not surprisingly, from a revenue point of view, it turned out to be a fundamentally different year than we thought it would. So, when I stood up here last year and said we thought our revenue would grow, it actually shrunk by three percent.”

Liddell dubbed the new economic situation the “new normal,” which sounds like it could be the topic on an “Oprah” show.

Still, Liddell, who has been a grumpier CFO than most during this econalypse–I once dubbed him “Glum Chris at the Recessiondome”–was more positive going forward.

“I can’t say this is good that we’re still down relative to where we were a year ago,” he said. “But, on a relative basis, it was a reasonable year from a shareholder value point of view, given the context of the environment that we had.”

Liddell said Microsoft was now operating in a “reset” mode, a term often used by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

“The economic path that we are all going to face, regardless of any industry, is going to be relatively subdued compared to what we’ve been through,” he said. “So, those companies that are going to drive superior shareholder value in the new environment are not only going to be the ones that mapping the reset in a very good way, but are going to manage the new normal in a particular way as well.”

That means having cash, controlling costs, pushing for innovation and market share, said Liddell.

He forgot to add judicious coupon-clipping!

After he was done, Liddell was joined onstage for an executive Q&A by Ballmer, COO Kevin Turner, Online Services President Qi Lu and, finally, Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, who was apparently in the special guest star role for this year’s meeting.

It was emceed by investor relations guy Bill Koefoed, who I must admit, is not even close to as dull as he is when reading all that legal mumbo-jumbo at quarterly earnings call.

(Even to my assistant Ed–to whom Koefoed’s voice is like Valium, since I listen to those calls on a speakerphone at All Things Digital HQ, and it puts him into a deep stupor.)

There were various questions for the execs–all men, by the way, although who’s counting? Well, okay, me!–including:

* Whether Microsoft might make more acquisitions.

“We don’t acquire as a strategy,” said Ballmer flatly.

* Its relationship with Yahoo (YHOO) going forward and if it might lead to even closer ties.

“If there was an implicit question are we interested in a full acquisition, the answer is no. Yahoo is happy to be independent, we’re happy to be independent, we’re delighted with search partnership,” said Ballmer even more flatly.

There were also a whole bunch of financial questions, most on the far side of wonky. Ozzie spoke only briefly about big computing ideas, which is his job at the software giant.

And then it was over and he and the other big execs headed for cocktails with those gathered.

And, last I saw, Liddell was not wrestling any drinks from the attendees. Not yet, at least.


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— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post