Turner joined Microsoft nearly a year ago as the company's chief operating officer. Before that, he spent nearly 20 years at retail giant Wal-Mart Stores, working his way up the ladder from part-time cashier to CEO of the company's Sam's Club unit.
Shortly after graduating from college, he sought career advice from Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, who suggested information technology. A self-described "average programmer," one of Turner's most memorable assignments was ferrying "some guy named Steve" from the airport to Wal-Mart's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters.
That was Turner's introduction to Steve Ballmer, who would later become Microsoft's chief executive. Now he's Turner's boss, as the world's largest software maker begins what could be a painful shift from being a product-centric company to one more reliant on services and IBM-style "solution" sales.
Last week, Turner made his first major speech to more than 7,000 of Microsoft's industry partners at a conference in Boston. The group represented some of the company's most important relationships: Roughly 95 percent of Microsoft's revenue comes through its partners, Turner said.
He sat down with CNET News.com right after his talk to discuss what he's learned at Microsoft so far, what it's like to be an outsider, and the importance of beating Google.
Q: You've been at Microsoft roughly 11 months. Obviously, you knew the company pretty well before you came here. Any big surprises? Was there anything you didn't realize as an outsider that you've learned now as an insider?
Turner: You know, as a longtime Microsoft customer--14 years--I bought a lot of stuff. There are a couple of things (that I've discovered) that truly have been amazing. One of them is the capability of the company is quite remarkable. There is so much capability and opportunity for us to continue to innovate, and that's been a very humbling learning experience for me. I mean, obviously I knew the company was extremely talented, but that sheer capability of research and development, and how they work together with customers and partners to connect it is something that has been a learning experience and something that I've been extremely excited about.
The second one is, just this sheer scope of Microsoft operating out of over 100 countries. It's truly a global company and, as I mentioned, I've been to quite a few places, but not near enough and not as many as I'm going to have to go to. That is a whole frontier for me...not knowing what to expect. (I've) had some experience in international markets, but not in 100 countries. So the sheer scale of that has been quite surprising--it's the amazing capability and the people to go with that, as well as the scale of 100 countries.
High-level executives who have come into Microsoft from the outside in years past--Rick Beluzzo, Mike Maples--haven't had the best track record. Did that give you any cause for concern before you came here?
Turner: Well, certainly I familiarized myself with people from the outside that had come here. But you know, first of all I had known Steve a very long time, so I'm proud to report that the same way Steve treated me as a customer, is exactly the same relationship I have with him today. That hasn't changed. There are no big surprises. He would challenge me when I was a customer. He challenges me as I'm a direct report. But he is the same person, and so I knew that. I had a comfort level that was important to me, and I knew that. But he certainly lived up and went beyond my expectations in that regard, so that's not been a surprise to me.
I took 30 days off for the first time in my work life. I had never taken off more than a week's vacation at a time. But when I resigned from Wal-Mart and joined Microsoft, I took 30 days in between that time. And so that was an intentional unplugged period, and one of the things I did that I think is very helpful is I took inventory of all of the people that I had onboard. Yes, I was familiar with the people who came before. But you know, those people won't define what I did. My results and/or the results I hope to achieve will be what defines how I do at Microsoft.
You've come into Microsoft at a pretty momentous time. There's huge change going on. You mentioned the change in Microsoft's business from being a products company to being more of a solutions company. When you're talking to partners, how do you deliver the message that it's a safe step to take with Microsoft going forward?
Turner: You know, I think one of the things that we've got to build on is communicating the software road map, explaining to people how this stuff works together and where it works together. I find that we're not as good at that as we're going to be, and so I really elevated that and put it on peoples' performance reviews and goal sheets and commitment sheets this next year. And we're going to survey our customers and our partners and ask them how good are we at articulating our software road map. So, that is one way I think that we can get people more comfortable with where we're going is by being able to get out there.
The second area...is really encouraging our people to embrace licensing and embrace security. Those typically have been conversations that we've kind of reacted to in the past. I want to get proactive. I want to step into the discussion and not step back, and that's one of the things we're talking to our group about next week is that ability to get proactive and really, you know, define your own destiny. Certainly the importance of partners with that is critical. But I think we just have to get better with storytelling about how these things all work together, and certainly doing that puts an obligation on us to have our act together and make sure that it all connects.
With Microsoft's new Live services approach, who will be the new, big partners in that area? Who will be the new IBM, Intel, Dell and Hewlett-Packard?
Turner: I think that there are some huge opportunities as you go down the stack. I mean, we have so many different classifications of both partners and customers. If you go down the stack and you start with small business, there are tons of opportunities in there for system builders, for some of our OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), for a lot of people from the subscription standpoint.