Mr. Sinofsky writes in his blog about cutting the number of managers between him and the lowest rung of the Windows unit to three or four from seven previously.
This streamlining, along with rigorous planning, has become his signature at Microsoft, but has ruffled some feathers at the company because it has reduced the number of general manager positions, where people got to use a wide variety of skills, and focused instead on the core functions of making software: developing, testing and managing specific programs.
But few dispute the results.
“For sure it flattens the organization, it definitely eliminates fiefdoms,” said the former Windows executive.
Mr. Artale, who led program management in the Windows unit in the 1990s while Mr. Sinofsky had the parallel role at the Office unit, added: “Steve is very much a product guy. He lives and breathes the product. He owns it. The product will reflect his personality and his style.”
Physically and temperamentally, Mr. Sinofsky is almost the opposite of CEO Ballmer.
A trim 5’ 8”, usually sporting a tidy t-shirt and V-neck pullover, the balding Mr. Sinofsky steered clear of the limelight at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, while the burly, effervescent Ballmer boomed his way through a series of press conferences.
Known for his love of roadside Americana, Mr. Sinofsky took time out to dine alone at the In-n-Out Burger on the other side of Interstate 15 from Las Vegas Boulevard and the hurly-burly of the show.
A former gym rat and jogger who now prefers yoga for exercise, Mr. Sinofsky lives in a condo in the historic center of downtown Seattle, unlike most Microsoft executives who favour large houses in the leafy suburbs east of Lake Washington, an easier drive to Microsoft’s Redmond campus.
Public records show he donated $10,000 to the campaign against a state tax on the wealthy in Washington state in 2010, alongside Mr. Ballmer who gave $425,000. Mr. Gates, though, supported the tax, which had been proposed by his father.
Mr. Sinofsky’s Microsoft shares are worth about $35-million, according to regulatory filings.
Although not a natural performer, Mr. Sinofsky enjoys showing off his product. His perky unveiling of the first test version of Windows 8 last September showed he has a rapport with developers, even getting a laugh out of them by joking that Microsoft updates its “Task Manager” program “every 15 years or so.” But he isn’t to everybody’s taste.
“I don’t think people care for his presentation style. He’s one of those super-intelligent types that come off as a little dry,” said Ryan Lowdermilk, who hosts a popular podcast for apps builders and attended the unveiling of Windows 8 to developers last year. “But developers respect people who ship product. That’s what people like about him the most.”
One-to-one, he is all business. Several reporters have received an icy, wordless glare when they ask a tough question.
Mini-Microsoft, the anonymous insider whose blog is a locus of informed criticism of the company, has called him “Spock-meets-Spartan.”
In his 13th year as CEO, Ballmer has presided over huge growth in sales and profit, but he’s had his critics from the day he started the job. Despite hitting four-year highs last week, the stock is still at the same level it was a decade ago, and Microsoft’s market value is only just over half of Apple’s.
The criticism reached a peak last May, when outspoken hedge fund manager David Einhorn – whose Greenlight Capital owned only about 0.1 per cent of Microsoft shares at the time – said the company had a strong future but it was time for Ballmer to step down and “give someone else a chance.”
Contacted on Monday, Mr. Einhorn declined to add to those remarks or to comment on Mr. Sinofsky.
A successful Windows 8 could help silence the critics. It would also give a big boost to Mr. Sinofsky.
Not everyone thinks he’s is the right man for the job.
“Bill Gates had the most amazing mind I’ve ever encountered. You could show him a PowerPoint slide and he would ask why it was different from the one you showed him three years ago,” said another former Microsoft executive. “Steve Ballmer is the most intuitively mathematical person I’ve ever worked with. Steve (Sinofsky) is neither of those things.”
But unless Microsoft goes outside of the company for its next leader, which would be a surprise, Mr. Sinofsky dominates the field. Some feel the company should recognize that publicly, and be more clear about its succession planning.
“Sinofsky is an executor, he can deliver,” said one large institutional shareholder. “They (Microsoft) should be able to provide more transparency to the depth of bench – to demystify the inner circle of management. In the absence of providing that, you get non-productive chatter. It would serve them well to nip that in the bud.”