Recruiters question former Microsoft CIO’s new job

By Meridith Levinson
Monday, 3 December, 2007

Stuart Scott’s appointment as chief operating officer of Florida-based mortgage lender Taylor, Bean & Whitaker — 16 days after he was fired as Microsoft’s CIO for violating the software giant’s corporate policies — may not be as fortuitous as it seems, according to some executive recruiters. They point to the fact that Scott has moved from top IT jobs at two big, powerful companies — GE and Microsoft — to a leading role at a smaller organisation playing in an embattled industry. Ed Highland, an analyst with Standard & Poor’s structured finance group, says the privately held Taylor, Bean & Whitaker is “a good-sized company” that services about 300,000 prime loans and has a “strong” Standard and Poors ranking for the efficiency of its loan servicing operation. The company says it has nearly US$5 billion in assets.

Stuart Scott’s career progression from GE to Microsoft to — what was the name of the firm again? — is not exactly meteoric,” says Marc Lewis, CEO of Leadership Capital Group, an executive search firm. “It’s [a] very logical [move], given his apparent fall from grace at Microsoft, but logical does not make it impressive.

On November 21, Taylor, Bean & Whitaker issued a press release about Scott’s appointment as COO, citing his impressive credentials to help the company “deliver innovative technology solutions”. Several calls to the company to speak to executives about Scott’s appointment have not been returned.

Martha Heller, managing director of executive search firm ZRG’s IT leadership practice, says Scott went from being a big fish in a big pond to being a slightly bigger fish in a “much, much” smaller pond.

Moving into a COO role softens the blow of going from Microsoft to a lesser-known company, says Heller, who is also a columnist for CIO US. “If you’re going to be forced in a way to go to a company that isn’t in an enviable space right now, you might as well try on a new corporate hat while you’re at it,” she says, adding that Scott’s making the best of a bad situation. “The guy has to slum it, [but] at least he can challenge himself. He’s a bona fide COO now.”

Heller and Lewis note that the beleaguered mortgage industry is not an attractive place for executives to land jobs right now. But the industry’s woes — and appetite for risk — may have made it easier for Scott to get a job after being fired from Microsoft, and for a relatively small company like Taylor, Bean & Whitaker to recruit a high-profile, former GE and Microsoft executive. Companies in profitable, controversy-free industries that have the pick of the talent pool don’t need to hire an executive who possesses even a whiff of controversy, says Heller.

Lewis says the mortgage industry, which is known for taking chances, may not view hiring an executive with a damaged reputation as risky. And Taylor, Bean & Whitaker may be more interested in Scott’s experience and connections than the dark cloud under which he left Microsoft. Lewis doesn’t know how else to explain why the company hired someone into a COO position who’s never previously been a COO and who’s never worked for the financial services industry, let alone for a mortgage company.

Recruiters said they find it notable that Scott has not relocated from his home in Bellevue, Washington, to north-central Florida, where his new employer is based.

Heller notes that while such extreme commutes are increasingly popular among executives, most weekly commuters limit the distance to two to three hours by plane.

“It’s very challenging for a new executive, especially one who’s going to be in as people-oriented a role as a COO, to be successful remotely,” she says. “If you ask any COO or CEO what skill has made them successful, they will say the ability to work with and forge strong ties with people, and even in our virtual world, that is a face-to-face job.”

Scott also needs the face time, she adds, to build his credibility with the rest of the company when rumours about him and the circumstances under which he left Microsoft may be abounding.