Blog foretold exit of Microsoft India MD

Blog foretold exit of Microsoft India MD
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First Published: Sat, Jun 07 2008. 03 39 PM IST
Updated: Sat, Jun 07 2008. 03 39 PM IST
Bangalore: Ending strenuous denials following a series of Mint enquiries, Microsoft India announced in a press statement at 6.41p.m. on Friday that managing director Neelam Dhawan was leaving the company to become managing director at HP India.
Dhawan’s exit comes after simmering internal uncertainty over top executives at Microsoft India spilled over into the public domain with dozens of its employees reacting to a detailed blog posting in a forum widely used by Microsoft Corp.’s employees to air their views on the company and how it is run in India.
This forum is also regularly monitored by Microsoft as a surrogate information source on employee-related issues.
The abrupt announcement of Dhawan’s exit, and the serious and specific nature of allegations in the posting on and the strong supporting reactions, allegations which Microsoft India officials strenuously denied as they did those regarding Dhawan’s departure, come as a distraction for the software giant, which is pursuing Yahoo Inc., and sees India as vital for its growth.
Hewlett-Packard Co. is a dominant player in India’s hardware market and, with the pending acquisition of Electronic Data Systems Corp., in the software solutions business as well.
The firm is both a big customer and rival to Microsoft.
Mint couldn’t independently ascertain the veracity of some of the claims though at least one senior Microsoft India executive confirmed some of the more central issues roiling Microsoft operations here, including questions about the leadership of chairman Ravi Venkatesan who oversaw Dhawan; the consequence of an internal investigation of some India-based transactions entered in the past 12 months, and rising attrition.
This executive, who had knowledge of Dhawan’s departure to HP even as Microsoft officially kept denying it, did not want to be named.
The alleged problem transactions involve the company’s original equipment manufacturing, or OEM, team. This senior executive said Microsoft’s OEM team got a Delhi-based OEM (a company that makes computers) to place a huge order and recognised this revenue to meet internal targets. This order was later reversed, but by then the revenue target was considered met (and the blame for cancelling the order likely passed on to the OEM).
Without specifically referring to this OEM transaction, the post said that “the really breaking that the MD has been fired for the same transaction that various Microsoft people in Delhi have already been fired.”
The Microsoft OEM team has been gutted, this person added, after the nature of this transaction came to light. This team reported to Dhawan.
On Thursday, Mint sent a detailed questionnaire covering many of these issues to Melissa Lawson of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, the agency assigned by parent Microsoft to respond to urgent requests for information.
Lawson acknowledged receipt of the questionnaire on Thursday evening India time but wrote in a subsequent mail, a little after midnight Thursday, that the company “will be unable to meet your deadline.” On Friday morning, after coming to know of the specific nature of the internal probe, Mint wrote to both the local and global teams of Microsoft for a response. Lawson hadn’t responded to this by the time the newspaper went to press Friday night.
Rakesh Bakshi, director, legal and corporate affairs and chief compliance officer for Microsoft India, denied that there was any broad investigation being carried out. He didn’t elaborate.
At the centre of the issues raised in the blog post is Dhawan. The post, authored in late May, noted she was leaving Microsoft for HP, her former employer. Like they continued to do with the other issues mentioned in the post, however, Microsoft India executives at first strongly denied this.
Venkatesan, told Mint in a telephone interview Friday afternoon that Dhawan had not quit and that there had been no key exits in the past three weeks. He said the India team was not under any kind of internal investigation. He added that there was no truth in additional rumours that key employees, such as Rajiv Srivatsava, who had come from HP after Dhawan joined Microsoft and is a general manager in charge of enterprise sales, were headed out.
“...he is here, sitting in a meeting with me,” he said during his interview, referring to Srivatsava.
Dhawan said in an email response to a questionnaire mailed to her that she was “unable to comment in detail because she was out of the office...” She added: “Most of the questions are not factually correct. (I) will get back on Monday.” She reiterated the same points and denied that the sales operation in India was under investigation in a brief telephone interview on Friday. In his telephone interview, Venkatesan also promised he would respond to Mint’s questionnaire by email but didn’t give a deadline for this.
Mint couldn’t independently ascertain whether attrition at Microsoft was as high as has been claimed in the post which claims that “with four key departures in SMSG in Microsoft India in the past two days, it looks like the attrition rate is worse than that of a call centre.” Venkatesan denied that attrition was significant. SMSG refers to the company’s sales, marketing and service group.
The same senior executive at Microsoft India claimed that most of the employee exits were happening at the “account manager level” where people responsible for $25-30 million (Rs107-128 crore) in revenues were leaving. “They aren’t management but they bring in a lot of money,” this person added.
Microsoft India’s annual revenues are estimated at around $700 million.
Dhawan joined Microsoft India in 2005 from HP where she was vice-president. She has previously worked at International Business Machines Corp. and HCL Technologies Ltd. Microsoft’s statement said Dhawam last date at the organization would be 30 June. It did not name a replacement.
A spokesperson for HP India said on Friday evening that it would make an announcement about a new managing director “early next week”. When pointed to Microsoft’s statement, she said that HP was aware of it but would still wait to make a “formal” announcement. She added that she would not be in any position to comment on whether HP was aware of the internal investigation at Microsoft.
The post of managing director at HP India has been vacant ever since Balu Doraiswamy, the previous occupant of that post, was named Managing Director, APAC (Asia Pacific), Japan and Senior vice-president, Technology Solutions Group, HP.
What Mini-Microsoft has to say?
(To see the post in its original location, comments, and other posts on Microsoft go to
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
What’s up with Microsoft India?
(The following post about Microsoft India is a long read and is admittedly one big long comment stream paste job. But I’ve gone through about two months worth of comments on a theme that emerged on its own and kept going and going, post to post, even amidst all the Yahoo!-acquisition foolishness. I promised a follow-up post on the specific topic - here you go. I find great irony that while these comments were brewing here, InsideMS wrote up an internal story: ”Is Hyderabad the New Redmond?” Hmmmmm.)
A long time ago, in a blog post weeks ago, a commenter made the following small post:
How bad is things in Microsoft India? The GM Neelam Dhawan is fired and going back to HP. She is taking Rajiv Srivastava with her.
Well, this was first met with an anti-India ”why should I care” comment response that grew a thread about racial-preference and other grudges folks hold towards their Indian peers. Which in turn was countered with enthusiastic backlash-backlash, and grumbles about racism. In the meantime, comment after comment started a far more interesting series of insight that spanned all the recent posts that came up during our ill-conceived stock-busting Yahoo! gambit:
Since there is no India blog for Microsoft I am forced to write here.
My friends and fellow Microsoft people, let me tell you that the situation in SMSG India is horrible. People are leaving and the leadership never meets the employees. We have box manufacturers trying to sell software. We have Chairman who I have not seen in 6 months in person. I have seen him on TV and the newspaper a few times. We have MD Neelam Dhawan who interviewed at Cisco 2 times and did not get a job there and is now going back to HP. The Country Manager for Xbox has left. BMO has almost 100% churn.
We now spend so much time reporting and having conference calls that I cannot meet my customer.
Does the Redmond people care about what is happening in MS India? Who can I complain to if I have a problem? Will Kevin Turner and Jean Philipe Courtois have an all hands meeting with the staff but without the India management present? You know we cannot speak the truth with our management because we will lose our jobs. And I want to keep my job till I get another offer. Like all the employees around me.
India Dev Center (IDC) is a pure empire building exercise. It is all about creating more partners as the VP mentioned in his Redmond recruitment visits. It is a good tour for a few Redmond folks who find a ”sugar daddy”, go to India for 2-3 years, get two promotions and come back to a different job in Redmond.
Meanwhile, a few exceptions aside, the quality of the work is abysmal. Components that came back to Redmond had to be completely rewritten.
Or, maybe not:
I work for WinSE in IDC (India Development Center). The situation is much better there.
We work in tandem with our counter parts in Redmond/China and have been making on-time and good-quality deliverables. The GDRs/Hotfixes/Service Packs which get shipped periodically are a result of good team work between the three huge teams.
However, our org, does not report to the India DC VP (we report to the Redmond VP), which probably is why we have a better coordination with the Redmond and ATC teams.
A tick for your tock, perhaps pointing an organizational leadership problem:
[...] the so called innovative ideas emerging out of IDC are so stale that they just don’t get qualified to be called as innovative product ideas. The VP heading IDC is under tremendous pressure to show that there is some great innovation happening here. But, unfortunately his team is just not capable of delivering anything that will be worth talking about.
IDC is still not capable of standing on its feet. It is completely remote controlled by Redmond. The teams here are just puppets that play into the whims of the Redmond GMs. The senior dev/test managers here lack depth and confidence to deliver independently.
Interestingly enough, engagement started to happen within the Mini-Microsoft comment stream. A comment signed by Sudeep Bharati engages discussion around mobile app development at IDC:
There are few comments & assertions that have been made in this thread about “Mobile Developer” team at IDC. As the PUM for this org, I would like to make sure that the readers have the perspective from the other side too. IDC team has owned the Visual Studio for Devices charter for around 2 years now and has delivered a full release of this product with VS 2008. In this release, we added significant value to the product enabling test driven development for device projects with unit testing, programmable security configuration, managed API model to access and manipulate devices from the desktop as well as numerous enhancements to device emulator. Each one of these features are high value components for mobile developers and have been widely appreciated.
Following up on that:
We mastered the art of writing specs, converting that to code and testing it. But where is the innovation?
There is a serious lack of thought leadership in this group. Show me one senior member of the team who understands the big picture of the mobile developer story. We now have a lot of responsibility to deliver the complete platform and I do not see the maturity to do that.
Our focus is too narrow and we wear the colored glasses that only show us what we want to see! The mobile innovation is happening else where. Is there someone in the team who can confidently articulate what the competition is up to? Do we know anything about J2ME Midlet story? Do we know how Symbian stacks against us? Are we clear about Adobe’s Flash story on mobile? Do we have a strategy for mobile web authoring? How do we counter the iPhone SDK? What will Google do with Android? What will IBM do with Eclipse in this space?
No! We have no time to figure this out.
A comment signed by David D’Souza responds:
The Mobile Developer Group intends to make products customers will love. We know the mobile field is broad and difficult. The strategies of the past won’t work again; as they say, people have seen that movie. Dynamics change and competitors are just as likely partners of the future - Windows Mobile includes Adobe Flash and Silverlight is porting to Nokia. [...]
As a partner at Microsoft, I’m engaged and passionate about the mobility area and equally passionate about ensuring IDC is a great place to work. If you are inside MSFT, you can browse my/site and watch our IDC Mobility Days presentations. As much as Windows 3 changed the PC experience, we need to achieve similar transformations in the mobile experience. We have breadth for multiple partner level people in this organization and we’re continually growing and enhancing our engineering capacity to deal with the challenges we face. Our products will be second to none. We will have fun, innovate, and work in new ways.
A demonstration of the As hiring Bs that end up with Cs and Ds:
The other huge concern is about quality of hires at IDC. I see pathetic hires walking into the product teams. The PUM/GM put a lot of pressure on HR and they end up fast tracking the hiring process. On top of that, you always have internal poaching which is very unhealthy.
While quality of hiring at Microsoft India IDC may be bad, the new hires in MS SMSG India is even worse. The interview process does not even exist, exit interviews dont exist, people get into jobs that are way above their abilities or interest and we have Neelam Dhawan to inspire people to join Microsoft.
On leadership:
I have been with EPG at MS India (SMSG) for a long time. I have seen the ups and downs and saw many leaders come and go. But, let me tell you that the current HP imports are horrible leaders to work with. Someone said it right - They raped the Microsoft culture.
My request to the CVP is to spend more time with the employees and hear their version.
...and leadership choosing the wrong carrot:
Everything is wrong at Microsoft India. There is now a reward of some cheap notebook if we get to the revenue target. Does Neelam (GM) not realise that we work for pride and challenge and whether or not she offers us a Rs,13000 HCL notebook we will do our best. I am insulted by this offer of a gift if the subsidiary meets the revenue goal. Last year, everyone got xbox and Neelam thought that people worked harder for the chance at winning xbox. Her cheap thinking about what motivates people at Microsoft is one of the reasons we are suffering in India today.
Go back to HP Neelam. You have no idea about Microsoft culture and how to motivate people.
...the gloves slip off:
[T]he underlying fact is that 70% of MS India is stinking with corrupt leaders. EPG has no moral values and ethics in selling. No one even understands why DPE should be paid in the first place. Public Sector has a new country lead for every 12 months and no one has a clue on handling the government accounts. HR is non existent and has the maximum attrition than any group. PR is busy bribing the media and publications to print positive stories.
The DPE lead is great at dancing at internal events and no one knows what else he is good at. Even if everyone in DPE are fired right away, it wouldn’t make any difference to us. It’s a well known fact that they will be the first to go out if there is a lay off at MS. This team is more of a liability than an asset. The earlier we fire them, the better for us.
An outside perspective starts with:
Well, let me share my view from outside. MS India has completely forgotten the community initiative. They are too busy impressing their hierarchy. There were times when the MVP/RD community was really valued and we were respected for what we are! Things are very different now. The MVP lead is in a deep slumber and does nothing for the community. I haven’t met anyone from DPE India for ages. We only hear sugar coated statements from the GMs or senior executives when we bump into them.
Sending out an S O S:
An open letter to Mr. Jean-Philippe Courtois & Mr. Kevin Turner -
Can you please visit India once and listen to the feedback from the field?
The CVP, MD and all her direct reports made this company a miserable place to work for! They created a feudal fiefdom for themselves.
Please don’t fall for things like the ’Best Place to Work For’ recognition by a reputed publication. These can be bought in India for a price. It is a well known fact that the One India PR head spent a fraction of her budget to buy this! It’s an irony that we got that award when we are experiencing the opposite of that - ’worst place to work for!’
You might be rewriting the corporate history and also doing something like this for the first time at Microsoft- Can you please fire the CVP and everyone who is two levels below him? Only that can save the Indian subsidiary.
Don’t let the door knob hit you where the dog should have bit you:
With 4 key departures in SMSG in Microsoft India in the past 2 days, it looks like the attrition rate is worse than that of a call center. The only problem is that the CVP and the country GM are not leaving. Ravi is in denial that he is singularly responsible for the fuck up that is called Microsoft India SMSG. And Neelam is unable to find a job anywhere else.
Wrapping back to the very first comment:
Breaking News From MS India - The MD, Neelam Dhawan has put up her papers and will be leaving anytime now! Few of her direct reports would be following her.
So, Good things started to happen for Microsoft India.
The really breaking news from Microsoft India is that the MD has been fired for the same transaction that various Microsoft people in Delhi have already been fired. She will not be a Microsoft employee by the time this fiscal year ends. Finally the good news is here. I hope she takes all her HP people with her with the EPG head being the first one.
Moorthy Uppaluri is also the new DPE head.
Final comment:
Mini - can you please reopen a seperate thread on Microsoft India SMSG and R&D? There are lots of stories of nepotism, poor OHI, bad quality work and a possible financial impropriety doing the rounds in India.
Well, okay. To quote a farm boy, ”As you wish.” Not... that... you’re my Buttercup or anything. But here’s an open door and open area to discuss Microsoft India: what the problems are, how to get management to accept that there are problems, where the right place to be is, and how to get there.
Mini-Microsoft Microsoft
Posted by Who da’Punk at Wednesday, May 28, 2008
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First Published: Sat, Jun 07 2008. 03 39 PM IST