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Penn Names

There’s not much Mark Penn‘s Microsoft colleagues won’t say about him as long as they can say it anonymously. As reported by Nick Wingfield in The New York Times (3/4/14), Microsoft’s newly appointed chief strategy officer — perhaps best known as the Clinton family’s pollster — has both supporters and detractors. "Some see him as a thoughtful adviser who rubs hidebound colleagues the wrong way by presenting them with useful data … that runs counter to their intuition. Others say he massages his data … to bolster his own preconceived ideas."

"I wouldn’t say they’re cooked numbers, but they’ve certainly been spiced," says one nameless critic. Another said Penn was "not a warm and fuzzy guy." Several others reported that he said "don’t trust your gut" at a Microsoft meeting where "he made it clear his approach would be heavily reliant on data." The real flashpoint, according to still more icognito employees, was "his willingness to use negative advertising" to go after Google, via the Scroogled campaign, which skewered Google’s privacy policies.

Clearly, these Microsoft employees jealously guard their own privacy, but many thought the Scroogled campaign was both "tacky" and ineffective. Penn, however, points to research that it successfully raised doubts about Google. Most important, he has the support of apparently the one executive at Microsoft willing to go on record about him, its new CEO, Satya Nadella, who says Penn’s data-driven approach will be applied not only to advertising, but also "new product ideas" as well as "overall areas of strategic investment."