Microsoft names Chris Liddell CFO

The former CFO at International Paper Co. starts May 9

Microsoft Corp. has named Chris Liddell as its new chief financial officer. His first day on the job will be May 9, the company said late yesterday.

Liddell previously served as CFO at International Paper Co. Prior to that, he was CEO of Carter Holt Harvey Ltd., International Paper's affiliate in New Zealand.

Liddell replaces John Connors, who announced in January that he was leaving the job to become a partner at Seattle-area venture capital firm Ignition Partners LLC. At the time, Connors said he would help with the transition, and he formally left Microsoft on March 31. Connors served as Microsoft's CFO for five years and worked for the company for 16 years.

Some analysts had speculated that Microsoft would name an internal employee as CFO, based on a perception that Microsoft has not had much success hiring high-level executives from outside the company.

Liddell's new job is something of a double-edged sword, according to Philip Carnelley, research director at U.K. analyst company Ovum Ltd. While he faces the luxury of overseeing Microsoft's $35 billion cash reserve and net income of around $1 billion per month, the high-profile slot will also place him under intense scrutiny.

"The appointment of a CFO from the paper industry -- a mature, cyclical industry -- rather implies that despite public protestations, Microsoft recognizes that it is indeed a mature company in a mature industry and needs to be managed accordingly, something John Connors alluded to in January," Carnelley said in an e-mail assessment today.

Liddell will most likely continue Connors' efforts to increase shareholder returns, perhaps by continuing his predecessor's move of handing out of billions of dollars in dividends, Carnelley said.

"We await the new entrant's moves with interest. One thing we're confident of: He won't be having trouble with debt payments or cash flow anytime soon -- personally or corporately," Carnelley said. "News reports say that he will receive a salary of $500,000 and a signing bonus of $300,000, as well as stock awards to come."

A representative of Microsoft declined to comment on Liddell's compensation package.

Liddell holds an engineering degree from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and a master of philosophy degree from Oxford University in England.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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