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Microsoft’s Top Female Executive Leaves The Nest Patty Stonesifer Hopes To Make Mark As Head Of Own Consulting Business

Jonathan Miller Eastside Journal

There are times when it makes sense to simplify one’s life and move on to new things. For Patty Stonesifer, this is one of those times.

In December, Stonesifer gave up her position as senior vice president of Microsoft’s Interactive Media Division, where her clout earned her billing by Time magazine as one of the nation’s 25 most influential people. The Redmond resident oversaw Microsoft’s massive investment in on-line services, news, information and entertainment.

Now she will be working out of a second-floor office in downtown Redmond, in an old brick building above a pizza restaurant. She wanted time for a more balanced life and time to focus on computer-based entertainment projects, she said.

“I could have taken another role at Microsoft that would have given me that (balance),” said Stonesifer, who was Microsoft’s top-ranking female executive. “I was ready to do something on my own.”

Moving from a company with more than 20,000 employees to a start-up consulting business with just two, Stonesifer has found she can think more clearly about business opportunities. Her biggest opportunity at the moment is working with those wizards of Hollywood, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, the principals of DreamWorks SKG.

Meeting with Katzenberg, a former Walt Disney Co. studio chief, for instance, is often as stimulating as discussing a project with Bill Gates, she said.

“I can see how the best people in the animated-film industry build world-class products after seeing people do that in the software arena,” she said.

Between plane trips to Los Angeles and Palo Alto, however, she also is able to spend more time at home. Recently, she was at home while her children studied for finals.

The time she put in at Microsoft helped open doors. After helping manage Microsoft Press, Microsoft Canada and Product Support Services, in 1993 she became head of the Consumer Division, overseeing products and services ranging from the Encarta CD-ROM encyclopedia to the Microsoft Network to the Flight Simulator action game. It was in that post that she forged the deal with DreamWorks to start DreamWorks Interactive, a multimedia production studio.

Spielberg, Gates and company have given DreamWorks much of the same financial security Stonesifer had at Microsoft. The main difference now, she said, is that the pressure to manage a variety of products and create a return for shareholders is not there. She can work on her own terms.

“We do need to create jobs where the expectations aren’t that people have to be in the office every Saturday,” Stonesifer said.

She said she can now relate to many of the former Microsofties who went on to form such new companies as Real Audio and Midisoft and make award-winning products.

She has not ruled out returning to Microsoft some day. She will assess her consulting business after a year, and then decide what’s best, she said. For now, she’s enjoying her freedom.

“I took a long holiday, which is a great thing for me.”

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