Report: Toxicity Continues at Nadella’s Microsoft

Posted on May 26, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft with 30 Comments

Alex Kipman. Photo credit: Paul Thurrott

Despite the feel-good vibe of the Satya Nadella era, Microsoft’s upper executive ranks continue to drown in toxicity, a new report claims. And this one seems to be aimed at bringing down a specific Microsoft executive who has perhaps gone too far.

“With his shoulder-length hair, leather jacket, and fluctuating degrees of stubble, [Microsoft Technical Fellow] Alex Kipman looks as much like the front man of a rock band as he does a tech executive,” a new Business Insider report claims. [He looks more like a homeless person to me, but whatever.] “Interviews with dozens of current and former employees suggest [that] Kipman is part of a widespread pattern of executive misconduct—including verbal abuse and sexual harassment—that continues to persist at Microsoft.”

The report details one such incident that occurred just a few years after CEO Satya Nadella vowed to end the toxic masculinity that had defined the software giant internally since its founding. Apparently, Kipman demonstrated a Mixed Reality headset by displaying “an overtly sexualized pillow fight” involving “several young women in skimpy clothing,” and he did so in a way that was projected so that everyone in the room, including women, could see it. Some simply walked out. But most were outraged.

“Every one of us needs to do our best work, lead, and help drive cultural change,” Mr. Nadella had written to employees the day he became CEO in 2014. “We sometimes underestimate what we each can do to make things happen and overestimate what others need to do to move us forward. We must change this.”

He has not changed this, Business Insider alleges. Instead, Nadella’s Microsoft has “a nearly unlimited tolerance for bad behavior by its top rainmakers and developers.” And the Kipman incident, as with others like it, resulted in no punishment of any kind. This despite “a litany of complaints against Kipman,” according to multiple sources.

“He doesn’t like conflict,” one source said of Mr. Nadella. “[Misconduct] is not something he wants to hear about … If he does, he wants someone else to go fix it.”

“Every reported claim we receive is investigated, and for every claim found substantiated there is clear action taken,” a Microsoft statement claims in response to this article. “This disciplinary action can range from termination, to demotion, loss of pay or bonus, official reprimand, mandatory training, coaching, or combination of some of these.”

Can. But hasn’t.

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Comments (30)

30 responses to “Report: Toxicity Continues at Nadella’s Microsoft”

  1. twags012

    Was that homeless looking comment added from Paul’s perspective? If so in an article referencing toxic culture that doesn’t seem appropriate.

    • ecumenical

      Yeah, the numerous snide remarks from Paul have slid from "amusing" to "distracting" for me.

      • jbinaz

        It's one of the reasons I am no longer a premium member. I'm listening to my first Windows Weekly in ~six months as I type this, and this is my first time here in about a month. I usually scan the article headlines and read what's interesting to me.

  2. driftsk

    Well, he's gone now. Business Insider is reporting that he has resigned after allegations of verbal abuse and sexual harassment.

    • driftsk

      (and Geekwire confirms the information, if the former was not considered good enough)

  3. Brian Hodges

    Considering the source - Business Insider, I'd ignore it and move on

  4. donaldhall3

    This report was simply summarized as if it was fact without any additional verification from Paul. That’s not reporting its lazy. I worked there for 13 years and never witnessed that type of behavior.

  5. drwindows

    Outrage because of a sexualized pillow fight while shrugging at another school massacre because it's the constituional right of every american to walk the street like he is going to war. Fits perfect in my picture of this country.

    • gavinwilliams

      That is so perfect drwindows - it's why I can't take the outrage at the pillow fight seriously. It's so selectively inappropriate. Meanwhile, in the real world, girls are having pillowfights ... with men :O and probably not brandishing assault rifles.

  6. Finell

    He looks nothing like a homeless person, and the homeless look nothing like him. He does not look like he Is sick or undernourished. That remark is needlessly offensive to many people. PLEASE REMOVE IT!

    • BlackyForest

      On so many pictures he looks more like a homeless... Perhaps he ist imitating Steve Jobs in his own way...

      It is not to blame Mr. Kipman, but I can understand Paul's comment.

    • lvthunder

      You obviously haven't seen the homeless in the Western US. Most of them don't look sick or undernourished.

  7. tbtalbot

    The pillow fight thing sounded cool, but not in front of a mixed audience. Toxicity can easily wreck any organization. It's hard to notice rot when the money is coming in until it is too late. I'm also sick of the woke stuff coming out of MS and don't believe it. I also don't like all the stuff they nerfed to make Windows 11, the first Windows I did not upgrade to (I even liked Vista).

    • bkkcanuck

      He should just have been fired. It is not woke stuff with that, it is making sure you are protecting the company brand (because this will sooner or later become public) and protecting the company from lawsuits... Imagine if this was a group of 'over sexualized' gay males having a pillow fight... neither is appropriate in a company... time to grow up and stop trying to turn the company into a frat.

    • Daishi

      The pillow fight thing sounded cool, but not in front of a mixed audience.

      Ah, right. So the problem wasn’t the horrendously inappropriate presentation, it’s that he should have just saved it for the dudes.

      I'm also sick of the woke stuff coming out of MS

      That’s funny, because I’m sick of people saying they’re sick of “the woke stuff”.

      • jdawgnoonan

        I agree with you, if the pillow fight thing was funded with company billable hours then honestly that guy should just get fired for it. Just the dudes or not just the dudes, that shit doesn't belong in the office and he should have more respect for his coworkers.

  8. hrlngrv

    | “He doesn’t like conflict,” one source said of Mr. Nadella.

    FWIW, my father was a corporate lawyer, served as secretary on a few local company boards of directors. He knew more than a few CEOs who didn't like conflict, but they were all smart enough to know they needed one person, either another senior manager or an outside director, who didn't shy away from conflict and could serve as Grand High Executioner to deal with whatever needed dealing with.

    If Nadella and/or the rest of the MSFT board isn't clever enough to have figured this out, then give it a few more years for the big-$ law suits to roll in. At that point, either Nadella learns the value of having a hatchetman on staff, or he proves he's not CEO material.

    • arjay

      In the Navy (before it got all woke) the commander of a ship didn’t engage in personnel conflict much if at all. The XO (Executive Officer) was the person in the hierarchy who had that role. It’s a pretty good division of work, allowing the CO to inspire and lead the troops and the XO to hand out punishment.

  9. LT1 Z51

    LOL homeless person.

    And yea, when you have an industry that's built on people who for the most part in their formative teen years had unhealthy relationships with the opposite sex (including no relationships). Doesn't excuse the behavior but you can't solve a problem without going to the root.

    The root cause of all toxic masculinity issues is either the worship or scorn by others (including women) of certain stereotypes of men. eg. "Athletes" being chased and "worshiped" by women, or "Nerds" being "scorned" by women. As much as no one wants to admit, dating, and sexuality are a supply and demand industry. The old adage is that 80% of women want the top 20% of eligible men (however you define that), which leads to some pretty bad behavior (by the 20% men who can basically do whatever they want and the 60% of that 80% of men who are basically ignored by women and have unhealthy negative attitudes about them)

    • Daishi

      Wait. So now we’re blaming toxic masculinity on women?

      • LT1 Z51

        Not blaming them. Blaming CULTURE which is formed by both MEN and WOMEN. To excuse one sex from being a cause of the problem doesn't solve the problem. It's a two way street, by allowing bad behavior to be rewarded Women contribute to toxic masculinity.

        You do understand that in poor nations one of the reasons 14 year old boys pick up arms to fight is the lack of a stable culture and access to women. If a man has no future reproductive options what motivation does he have to contribute positively to society? He won't have offspring and so he only cares about his own immediate needs.

        This is something I don't think "woke" people get. Consequences have actions. A pure free-market of relationships creates a set of humans who are angry and willing to tear down the system (and they take out their frustration on who they view as the problem).

      • gavinwilliams

        "So now we’re blaming toxic masculinity on women?" - give it up.

      • lvthunder

        Not exclusively, but they do play at least a minor role. Look at Tiger Woods. He has a supermodel wife. Cheats on her and it was made very public. It was what 6 months later he was dating Lindsay Vonn and if I'm not mistaken he cheated on her as well. Isn't that telling guys there aren't any (or many) consequences for cheating. My point is if guys who treat women poorly were shunned by other women they would change their ways.

  10. kherm

    This is interesting, but since it comes from Business Insider, I'd take it with a pinch of salt. They have multiple cases of making completely unsubstantiated sexual misconduct claims on multiple people. Just a shady situation overall.

  11. will

    I think if you investigated many top companies you would find the same thing: People in power love power.

    I have worked at a company like this before, smaller in size, but there were repeating patterns.

    It all starts at the top and can only be fixed from the top down. So if Satya does not address the toxic leaders, does that mean he needs to go even if the shareholders love the $$ they get? So much justification and enabling keeps this circle spinning.

    • hrlngrv

      Cynicism warning.

      MSFT may be incapable of learning except from its own experience. Meaning it may take a HIGHLY PUBLICIZED law suit resulting in a US$ 9-figure or higher judgment against MSFT to get anyone's attention. If that happens, watch what Nadella does. If he shies away from new media, NOT tech reporters but NYT, WaPo, CNN, NBC, then he'd prove he never should have risen to board level, certainly not to CEO. And if that happens, it'd remain to be seen whether the outside directors would have the fortitude to kick him out.

    • davepete

      One option would be for the board to dock Satya's compensation package by half for each unanswered incident. At some point he'd either take action or be working for a penny. It seems currently there's no enforcement mechanism, so Microsoft just claims whatever and does nothing.