Preston Gralla

Can a top ex-Microsoft exec finish the job of fixing HealthCare.gov?

December 17, 2013 2:13 PM EST

Kurt DelBene, former head of Microsoft's Office division was just named top honcho of the problematic HealthCare.gov site. Based on what he did at Microsoft, does he have what it takes to fix it?

Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, appointed DelBene, a 20-year Microsoft veteran to take a position to "lead and manage" the healthcare Web site starting tomorrow. DelBene won't be the first member of his family in D.C. His wife Suzan DelBene is a freshman Democratic Representative representing Washington. She's also an ex-Microsoft executive, having been vice president of Microsoft's mobile business.

Based on his background, how well is DelBene likely to do at HealthCare.gov? If his history at Microsoft is any guide, expect him to excel. He's got the right blend of tech smarts and management experience. Most recently, he was head of Microsoft's Office division -- he just retired yesterday, after having announced his retirement back in July, as part of the Microsoft reorganization. There's no evidence he was pushed out.

DelBene was appointed President of Microsoft's Office division back in 2011, and the division has continued to thrive under him. Even more than Windows, it has become a reliable revenue-generator, with solid growth. And under him, it is transitioning nicely to a subscription service rather than buy-once-and-use-forever. The most recent version of Office was well-designed. And also under him, the Office division was a no-drama zone, which can't be said of all other parts of Microsoft.

He's had a number of jobs at Microsoft before taking over Office, including general manager of Outlook, Group Program Manager for Exchange, and more. Before coming to Microsoft he was a software developer and systems engineer at AT&T Bell Laboratories, and then a consultant as McKinsey and Company. With an MBA from the University of Chicago, and a M.S. from Stanford, he's got the right educational background as well.

Is all this a guarantee that he'll succeed? Certainly not. But based on his background and what he's done at Microsoft, I expect he will.