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Microsoft executive quits as sex scandal takes toll on morale

EMBATTLED Microsoft has lost its second high profile US executive in as many weeks, amid concerns that the debauchery scandal and competition from Apple are taking its toll on staff morale.

Linda Zecher, a Microsoft board member and vice-president of its Worldwide Public Sector business, left on Thursday, just a week after she allowed herself to be named on an internal memo as one of two successors to Simon Witts, another board member who exited the business abruptly.

Ms Zecher has a good job to go to – she will become chief executive of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher - but the suddenness of her exit has shocked Microsoft executives. No one at the company had any inkling she was leaving.

Mr Witts, who as head of Microsoft's Worldwide Enterprise and Partner group ran a third of the company's business worldwide, departed the company after 18 years following a meeting with his boss, Kevin Turner, chief operating officer.

Mr Turner, who is known for his "war-like rhetoric" informed staff in a tersely worded email: "By mutual agreement, Simon Witts has decided to resign from Microsoft." By contrast, he said he was "disappointed" by Ms Zecher's departure.

Mr Witts was named in documents lodged at the High Court as one of the key advocates of Simon Negus, the former second in command at Microsoft UK who was sacked amid claims of sexual harrassment and is now suing the company for £10m for wrongful dismissal.

Meanwhile, fresh details have emerged in the row over sexual harrassment. Three senior female executives had a "catfight" at one of the parties where Mr Negus was alleged to have engaged in "flirting and touching" with his colleague Toni Knowlson.

According to witness statements, Ms Knowlson was chastised by two other senior female executives, who took umbrage at her "bubbly" and "outgoing" demeanour. Claude Brown, who hosted the dinner, said the "aggressive exchange" spoiled the evening.

Miss Knowlson, whom Mr Negus also allegedly kissed at the “Microsoft Global Exchange” party in Atlanta, went straight home from the dinner in a state of distress, whilst other Microsoft dinners went on for more drinks, according to court documents.

She has previously claimed that she was the subject of a smear campaign by other female executives, who suggested she had been promiscuous on trips away. Rumours circulated about Miss Knowlson and Mr Negus following another Microsoft conference in Atlanta. They were alleged to have kissed on the dancefloor of a nightclub after drinking neat vodka and Jägermeister. Mr Negus denies the allegations.