'Scroogled' architect Mark Penn to leave Microsoft

The former Clinton operative will depart in September to launch a private equity firm

Mark Penn

Mark Penn

Mark Penn, Microsoft's executive vice president of advertising and strategy, will leave the company in September to open a private equity firm.

Called the Stagwell Group, Penn's new firm raised $250 million in capital from investors including former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and could make up to $750 million in acquisitions using leverage. With that money, Stagwell will focus on investing in advertising, research, data analytics, public relations, and digital marketing services, the company said.

In a letter to employees on Wednesday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that Penn first discussed his plans to depart the company "a number of months ago."

During his tenure at Microsoft, Penn was perhaps best known for his role as the architect of the firm's "Scroogled" campaign, which was launched in 2012 and involved a series of advertisements criticizing Google for its collection of consumer data and the performance of devices running Chrome OS. Along with the ads, Microsoft also sold apparel emblazoned with the Chrome logo and slogans like "Keep Calm while We Steal Your Data." The combative tone of the "Scroogled" ads proved divisive, and Microsoft ultimately discontinued the campaign in 2014.

He also led the creation of Microsoft's 2014 Super Bowl advertisement. The TV ad, which was entitled "Empowering," focused on ways that technology helped people and was widely well-received.

Being away from Microsoft could free Penn up to once again serve as a political advisor. He's a long-time political operative who has worked on multiple campaigns for Bill and Hillary Clinton. In the political realm, Penn is well-known for identifying and focusing on "soccer moms" as swing voters in the 1996 election. He also served as chief strategist for Hillary's failed 2008 presidential bid, and she's one of the front-runners to become the Democratic Party's presidential candidate in 2016.

The announcement of Penn's departure comes alongside a larger executive shake-up at Microsoft. Stephen Elop, the former Nokia CEO who led the company's devices and services group, has left the company. Terry Myerson, who was the head of Microsoft's Operating Systems Group, will now lead the Windows and Devices Group, which includes his previous responsibilities along with oversight of Microsoft's hardware efforts. Dynamics CRM head Kirill Tatarinov and Executive Vice President of Advanced Strategy Eric Rudder are also leaving.

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