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Microsoft named a senior Wal-Mart executive as chief operating officer, its second high-level appointment from outside the technology industry this year.
The arrival of Kevin Turner, 40, who had run the US retailer's Sam's Club division, marks the latest move by the software company to tighten its operations as it comes to terms with life as a more mature company, according to industry analysts.
Mr Turner, who had spent 19 years at the famously cost-conscious retailer, will be Microsoft's first COO in three years. Rick Belluzzo, an outsider who had spent most of his career at other tech companies, lasted little more than a year in the job.
The appointments of Mr Turner and Chris Liddell, who joined as chief financial officer from International Paper earlier this year, show that Microsoft is grappling with life as a bigger and more complex company, said Charles Di Bona, software analyst at Sanford C Bernstein. Both Wal-Mart and IP operate in competitive low-margin businesses, a far cry from the hugely profitable software industry though Microsoft has turned its attention more towards operational efficiency as its growth rate has slowed.
“As they're growing up as a company, there are processes that are in place that need to be reconsidered, and bringing someone in from the outside can't hurt,” said Mr Di Bona.
Mr Turner will also take responsibility for all of Microsoft's sales and marketing activities in place of Kevin Johnson, who will be named to “a new senior executive role”, the company added.
Under Mr Ballmer, who became CEO five years ago, Microsoft has already made efforts to tighten its financial controls and improve operational efficiency. Over the past two years, the company has named chief financial officers to each of its divisions to reinforce attention to profitability, abandoned the practice of handing stock options to employees and paid out $32bn to shareholders in the form of a special dividend. Mr Turner will be responsible for Microsoft's fulfilment and IT operations, the company said.