Microsoft’s Zune Leader Stepping Down

The Microsoft executive who led the company’s Zune product launch, among other things, is retiring from the company, officials announced Wednesday.

Bryan Lee, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s entertainment business, plans to leave the company in the next several weeks to pursue personal interests. Taking his place at the helm of the Zune music player effort will be J Allard, corporate vice president of design and development for the Entertainment and Devices division. Allard had already been playing a key role in the Redmond, Wash., company’s music strategy, officials said.

Lee reported to Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices division. Joe Belfiore and Enrique Rodriguez, two corporate vice presidents who reported to Lee, will now report directly to Bach.

Multiple Roles

In addition to overseeing the launch of Zune, Lee helped shape the Xbox business and served as the first CFO for the Entertainment and Devices division. He also oversaw Windows XP Media Center Edition and the first implementations of Microsoft’s IPTV software.

“I hired Bryan back in 2000 to drive business development for Xbox,” said Bach. “Over the last six years I’ve had the luxury of repeatedly asking Bryan to take on greater responsibility and leadership and then watching him deliver. I want to extend my thanks to Bryan from the company and from me personally for all of his contributions to Microsoft.”

Lukewarm Reception

Zune, which many view as Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s wildly successful iPod MP3 player, has met with mixed reviews following its launch in November.

“It was a train wreck,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, told the E-Commerce Times. “They needed a guy running that project who had a passion for hardware, and because they didn’t have it, Zune ended up a device people didn’t buy. It was a significant mistake.”

“Zune didn’t get as much traction as some might have expected,” agreed Gartner analyst David Smith. “It was launched right before holiday season without many aspects done yet — it felt rushed. It made you scratch your head, wondering what they were trying to do.”

Bullish on Allard

Moving forward, few doubt that Allard will continue the Zune effort with new iterations of the product, noting that its success will also depend on the willingness of retailers, many of which are still burdened with excess inventory following the underwhelming holiday season.

Assuming retailers go along, Allard is expected to be a capable leader of the Zune line. “J Allard is known to have a passion for hardware, which should allow them to put out a better device,” Enderle said.

“Zune didn’t have to be a failure — there were plenty of indications ahead of time that they were on the wrong path, but they ignored them. Allard will intuitively know what needs to be done and get it done,” he predicted.

Microsoft officials declined further comment.

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