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‘BI’ Bill Baker exits Microsoft

Here’s a tidbit that broke last week while some were vacating: Bill Baker, a business intelligence and database guru at Microsoft, is leaving this month to become CTO of Visible Technologies.

The news was disclosed just as Microsoft (finally) announced SQL Server 2008’s release to manufacturing (RTM).

“BI Bill” spent 12 years at Microsoft and another 15 or so at IRI Software (later Oracle) and Softbridge.

The VSteamSystemCentral blog has more on Baker’s departure.

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Bill was a terrible GM. Behind the facade of "BI guru" he was an incompetent, nor technical nor business savvy. He used his popularity at conferences to avoid accountability at MS. In time his responsibilities got downsized and slowly he was pushed out. At the end of SQL 2005 cycle he got pushed out of SQL division. He had a second chance with PPS that he failed. The product shipped but the team wanted him out. It took about 6 month for that to happen. Bill has build his career on lies. 12 years ago when he joined MS he started by telling everybody he was under the Oracle NDE and can't really be involved. Few years later the team was busy shipping SQL 2005. He was one of the many GMs and PUMs in the SQL division. He could not really do harm since SQL division has many checks and balances such one cannot harm an entire product. People all around start noticing he does not add much value in Redmond and his team tend to have a turnaround higher than any other. To still get some use of of Bill he was the one sent out to conferences, that most do not want to go to avoid travel. This is how Bill's BI guru tag started. He told everybody he is the GM of BI at MS while such a title never existed. He also mastered the art of speaking in behalf of others and make it look as his own work. The progress MS made on BI has little to do with Bill. The same with PPS v1. That one actually shipped almost against Bill's will. Most of the decisions he though he made were worked around by the team under him to make it possible to ship. Good think he never knew what was going on. The team also tried hard to avoid having his name attached to PPS. The DE title was his severance package to leave SQL division. He got his second chance in the PPS team. Over here his honeymoon lasted only 6 months. The team started to isolate him out shortly after. Bill had used any method to cling to his position. He was known for hiring low level people and offering them responsibilities beyond the company norm at those level just to keep his team staffed. He also highly valued people who did not question his decisions. Eventually all those mistakes added up. Bill was subject of a massive HR investigation that ended up with his departure. Bill is capable of doing a lot of damage. This is why it took so long to get him out. Eventually the people above him were more skilled then him and got him out with minimal noise. Of course his departure is far from a loss. It actually took extra time and energy to see him gone and avoid damage. The people at Visible Technologies got themselves in a lot of trouble. Bill is very very expensive and he can treaten to do a lot of damage using whatever reputation he has left. He will start by wiping off their budget (the travel budget first). In order to be productive he needs a lot of headcount and cash. He also need agility meaning he should be hold accountable with mundane metrics. Above all he needs a large crown to tell him how great he is. He has a good shot at driving Visible Technologies to a ruin.
The problem at Microsoft is that what is cited above by Brady really happened, everybody knows it is true, and yet even in the rare cases when the cause is fixed (by getting rid of Bill Baker and other "visionaries") the company gets stuck with the effects. All over the world, Business Intelligence systems are migrating toward thin clients. Bill Baker insisted on the opposite inside Microsoft. Indeed, he went around buying companies to increase bloatware whenever possible, creating a system (PerformancePoint) that is literally impossible to install. He promoted almost every single person technically incompetent to absurd levels, and damaged the career of anyone that was really focused on trying to ship the product. Worse is that, in his way out, he left an entire new team of technical incompetents trying to, again, build a Microsoft Repository. Yes, you are right, we had already that application! (customers didn’t want it then, or now!). If DelBene has any clue about management he will just place someone not brought in by Bill Baker to oversee the mess, and let the person fire away all those that are just trying to get visibility instead of doing their job.
I would like to counter comments by Brady and Ykenv. My name is Mosha Pasumansky and I worked with Bill for 8 years from 1997 to 2005, having shipped together 3 versions of SQL Server BI - from OLAP Services 7.0 to Analysis Services 2000 and Analysis Services 2005. And I pretty much disagree with everything you claim. During the years I worked with Bill, I got to know him as smart, technical and visionary. He was the one pushing first version of OLAP product in Microsoft - there were plenty of people who didn't believe in it, but Bill was the one who predicted how much impact it will have and worked to convince everybody that it was the right thing to do. Especially with the first version, as soon as his Oracle's NDA expired, he really got into deep technical details of OLAP Services. My name is in Wikipedia as inventor of MDX - well, I can tell you - Bill Baker was very actively involved in it. You made comment about thin client BI - it only thanks to Bill Baker that we got ADOMD working under ASP - team didn't have enough test resources - and he built the whole application on ASP/VBScript/ADOMD to access cube with baseball statistics, and that became ultimate test case for thin client. I can go on and on. After SQL2000 shipped, Bill closely managed the first version of Reporting Services, the one that shipped out of band - after SQL2000 but before SQL2005 - today RS is the most popular and widely used product form SQL BI stack. I can also attest that Bill was a great manager, he was both my PUM and GM. He gave team enough freedom, i.e. he didn't micromanage, yet he made sure we focus on the right things - the theory of "Big Stones" in each release. So I think Bill Baker has done a lot to Microsoft BI both in vision and in execution, there are probably only couple more people who could be compared to his contribution, and I truly believe he deserved the Distinguished Engineer status.
Bill has fooled many during his years at MS. Every major decision Bill had taken during his last 2 years in the PPS team had just been undone. The M&A team is being moved to a separate team, the same fate to the MDM team he "build". Bill's creations, meaning incompetent people he promoted to high levels, were first to move as soon as Bill was pushed out. The achievements Mosha mentioned would have happened anyway and the larger SQL team has more to do with those than Bill. PPS v1 shipped against Bill's will and despite tens of bad decisions he made. Bill tried to get credit for it too. The question one should ask what is not what is the list of achievements a team had (any team would have some) but what the team could have done with a good manager and without Bill. Bill is a disgrace, the level of damage he did to Microsoft is huge. The PPS had lost at least 2 years and perhaps lost an opportunity that would never came back - and all of this because of an incompetent GM that confused his feelings with facts. 2008 is a great year since Bill got fired. My confidence in MS had increased a lot since I saw how it took care of Bill.
I am an analyst and have been watching the social media space for a while including Visible Technologies. It appears that Visible Technologies is losing ground compared to it competitors in this space. Very many good social media solutions have surfaced and are kicking Visible Technolgies' butt. It appears that Bill Baker is at it again. It's only March and seems like Visible Technologies is crumbling under his leadership. It may be that the good talent has either left or is in the process of leaving the company. Bill Baker has a very bad reputation among people who have worked with him in the past, so it won't be a surprise if that is happening again. He probably has promoted the worshipping incompetent people under him , just like what he did while in Microsoft. Visible Technologies has not publicly revealed any product vision to its customers in the last few months which shows that there might not be any. Comments by Brady, Grace, YKenv, and TomB make sense and are proving to be true in case of Visible Technologies. I think this company is going to pay a huge price under Bill's leadership which I can already see happening.
Time passes, and Bill Baker is fired from Visible Technologies... A few people at Microsoft with names like Mosha, Venky, Stephen and Kirk will tell you that he is a wonderful manager. All the other 500 people that were touched by his incompetence will laugh...