Skip the navigation

Questions abound on firing of Microsoft's CIO

Specifics of policy violation remain unclear; are IT execs are held to higher standards?

By Eric Lai
November 7, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - In addition to the question of what corporate policy now-former Microsoft Corp. CIO Stuart Scott violated to lead to his termination by the company on Monday, many other unknowns remain.

For instance, why didn't Microsoft and Scott work out some sort of face-saving departure? Was Microsoft tougher on Scott than it might have been on someone else because he was CIO? And what career paths remain open to the 40-something Scott?

One thing is for certain: Scott's firing has become unusually public, even though the termination was disclosed in an internal memo and Microsoft didn't formally announce it to the outside world or specify what internal policy he had violated.

Art Crane, principal at Capstone Services, a human resources consulting firm in Sherman, Conn., said via e-mail that it is "rather unusual" to see an involuntary termination be disclosed so publicly. "More typically, companies would want the situation to just go away without a lot of fanfare," Crane wrote.

That may not have been possible in this case, though. Scott had worked at Microsoft for only two years and was relatively unknown, especially in comparison with many of the company's other executives. But because of its size and market clout, Microsoft is always under the spotlight.

And, Crane wrote, "with the heightened focus on ethical considerations of late, it's important for a company, particularly one as visible as Microsoft, to deal with infractions swiftly and to send messages to employees, stockholders, regulators and the general public that it won't tolerate violations."

John Challenger, president of Chicago-based employee outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., said he doubts that Microsoft was trying to create a "public hanging" by firing Scott. "When you're in a war to attract talent and the best and brightest executives, you wouldn't want to suggest that you could do something that would embarrass them," Challenger said.

On the other hand, CIOs are not only in charge of ensuring that key IT systems stay up all of the time; they also have access to many of a company's deepest secrets. Thus, there is an increasing desire to hold them to a higher standard of behavior, according to Challenger. "This job is for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts," he said.

Scott's resume and public image seemed to fit that sort of description. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering, math and computer science as well as an MBA. Before joining Microsoft, he spent 17 years at General Electric Co., where he rose up through the IT ranks to become CIO of the massive GE Industrial Systems division. He also took part in GE's Leadership Development Program.



Our Commenting Policies
IT Salaries 2014
2014 Salary Survey

Our 28th annual survey results show which IT skills are in high demand and which are cooling off. Also, see how your salary stacks up to peers' with our Smart Salary Tool.