NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When Microsoft hired Qi Lu as president of its online-services division last week, many industry watchers, journalists and pundits said it was another indication of CEO Steve Ballmer's incurable case of Google envy.
To fill the role vacated by Kevin Johnson last August, Mr. Ballmer could have hired a technology and engineering expert or a business executive and, when he couldn't find both traits in the same person, he chose the former -- creating leadership that looked a lot like Google's down the coast.
Plus, by bringing in Mr. Lu, Mr. Ballmer lost a savvy business executive in Brian McAndrews, the highly regarded former CEO of aQuantive, which Microsoft bought for $6 billion in 2007. Mr. McAndrews was also a candidate for the job, and his departure will be a blow to Microsoft.
But former colleagues of Mr. Lu's warn against writing him off as just an engineering talent and not a business executive.
"He has the ability to listen, understand, collaborate and not dismiss product-management or sales people who were telling him how the market really works," said Steve Mitgang, CEO of Veoh, who at Yahoo was a business counterpart to Mr. Lu, who led Yahoo on the engineering side through the massive undertaking of revamping its search platform and introducing a new one, coined Panama.
In the 13 years since Microsoft launched its online-services businesses, the division has danced between being a media company and a straight technology company and, in recent years, has focused more on engineering, leading some media execs to leave the company.
Four groups will report to Mr. Lu: the Advertiser and Publisher Solutions business, now managed by Scott Howe, who was recently promoted to corporate VP; the online-audience business, managed by Senior VP Yusuf Mehdi; online-services-group research and development, managed by Senior VP Satya Nadella; and online-services-group finance, managed by Rik van der Kooi, who also was promoted to corporate VP.