Microsoft finance chief heads off to new venture

CFO John Connors heads to Ignition Partners after presiding over key shifts at the software giant.

Microsoft said Tuesday that Chief Financial Officer John Connors is leaving the company to take a job with a venture capital firm.

The company said that the 16-year Microsoft veteran would become a partner at Ignition Partners, a Seattle-area venture firm. Connors had served as CFO for the last five years and most recently helped spearhead a plan to return $75 billion to shareholders over four years, including a one-time $32 billion payout that took place last year. Connors also presided over another major shift, in 2003, when the company switched from awarding workers stock options to instead giving actual shares of restricted stock.

Connors told CNET News.com last year that paying stock dividends was the right move from a number of perspectives, including reducing Microsoft's legal liability.

"The less cash we have, the less likely we are to be a big honey pot for the single largest growth industry in the United States--the trial lawyers," Connors said. "So you can't ever make too much cash, but you can have too much cash."

Microsoft did not announce an immediate replacement, saying it would start a search, looking at both internal and external candidates. Connors will help in the transition to the new CFO, Microsoft said.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Connors said he decided to leave late last year and finalized the details with CEO Steve Ballmer at the beginning of this year.

"It's a good time (to leave)," he said. "The company is in very good shape. Some of the key goals and milestones I hoped to accomplish have been accomplished."

Connors said the move will allow him to spend more time with his family, as well as to help foster new businesses in the Seattle area. Around 20 of the 30 companies backed by Ignition are in that area, he said.

A number of current Microsoft executives are qualified to take over the top financial post, Connors said. One of his efforts in recent years was to add divisional chief financial officers in each of the company's seven business units as well as unit CFOs for both the operations unit and the sales and marketing unit.

In a statement, Ballmer lauded Connors for his accomplishments. "John has done an awesome job building a world-class finance organization for Microsoft and leaves behind him a very capable team."

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