Sunday, September 10, 2006

Microsoft CEO Saked «after» TBJ Article

I don't want to jump into a Post hoc ergo propter hoc conclusion, but it is a remarkable coincidence: just the day after the publication of my previous article on The Brussels Journal about Microsoft and its support to 0110, its CEO Bruno Segers got sacked. The reason for his sudden departure is not entirely clear, but rumors say there have been problems between him and the Executive Board for some time. Initially there was nobody to replace him, but the company has now announced Jørgen Bardenfleth will take over Segers' task. Now suppose the article (or more correct: the sponsoring) was used as a stick to beat the dog, would that have been a correct handling of the case by Microsoft?

Let's go back about one year in time, to a case where we know for sure that somebody was fired because of political reasons: Herman de Bode. He had put his signature under the famous Manifesto of a Flemish think-tank called In de Warande, named after the place where they usually meet. In the Manifesto, the think-tank lists, page after page, simple facts about the social-economical differences between Flanders and Wallonia, concluding that independence would be in the interest of both parties. As a result, Herman de Bode was forced to resign from McKinsey & Company Benelux, even though he had not used his position to promote or endorse his private political opinion. The reason for his resignation was said to be that his opinion was in conflict with the interests of one of the biggest clients of the company, the Walloon Region. One can regret this or be pragmatical about it, but there is a sense of a lack of reciprocity here: A French-speaking person expressing an anti-Belgian opinion would never have to fear for his job, even if the Flemish Region would be the most important customer of his company.

Compare this to the case of Bruno Segers, who regularly expressed his opinion about the anti-immigration and Flemish-secessionist Vlaams Belang (VB, Flemish Interest) on his personal blog. In principle this is not a problem, even on the contrary: the more people openly declare their political opinion, the better for the political debate, and the more clarity there will be about where everyone stands. However, this changes if he uses his job to promote his opinion or even financially support it with the company's money. If the shareholders agree, there is no problem, but if that's not the case, some conclusions should be made one day or another. Maybe this is what happened on Friday, and in that case, Microsoft has unarguably acted correctly. But it can of course just as well be that Microsoft couldn't care less about this blog, and that he was fired because he was caught stealing a pencil or a paper clip for personal use.

It would be good thing though if Microsoft would give us some more clarity about its sponsoring of 0110, and how it should be understood. Would the software company rather not see any of the voters of VB as its customers anymore? And if VB would gain power in one of the municipal councils, should the municipality then start looking for another platform for its IT services?