Skype bloodletting doesn't bode well for fans of Internet phone service

At least eight Skype executives fired, screwed out of unvested options

Remember, if you work hard for a corporation and display unswerving loyalty, it will all pay off in the end.

Unless the end is an acquisition that supposedly results in you getting a full payout from your options. Then you might just get fired before the deal closes.

(Also see: It's official: Microsoft to buy Skype for $8.5 billion)

That appears to be the fate of eight executives from Skype Technologies, the popular Luxembourg-based Internet phone and web videoconferencing service that was purchased in May by Microsoft for $8.5 billion.

From Bloomberg:

Vice Presidents David Gurle, Christopher Dean, Russ Shaw and Don Albert were dismissed from the Luxembourg-based company, said the people, who requested anonymity because the departures aren’t public. Chief Marketing Officer Doug Bewsher and Anne Gillespie, head of human resources, were also fired. Executives Ramu Sunkara and Allyson Campa, from the 2011 Qik purchase, were also let go.

The timing of the dismissals means stock options will be worth less than if the executives stayed until the closing of the $8.5 billion deal, the people said. When a company gets bought, compensation is often tied to the purchase price, said Neil Sims, a managing director at Boyden, a search firm.

Private equity firm Silver Lake bought a 70 percent share of Skype from eBay in 2009. Apparently that's the only kind of "sharing" Silver Lake is interested in.

Neither Silver Lake nor Microsoft would comment on the bloodletting, though a Skype spokesman delivered a typical mealy-mouthed corporate comment about "management changes."

Before the Microsoft acquisition, Skype was expected to go public, which probably really excited the eight executives who were fired because then they could cash out some of those options. Their temporary disappointment no doubt was abated when they probably were told to their faces that they'll get to vest those options once the Microsoft deal went through. Oops. Change of plans!

I'm not sure whether this sleazy move was driven by Silver Lake, Microsoft or both, but it serves as a sobering reminder (as if we need one) that, in the corporate world, loyalty is a one-way street and promises essentially are meaningless.

Skype Journal analyzes the possible motivations behind the dismissals and seems to conclude that, at least timing-wise, it's all about the investors (Silver Lake) not wanting to share in the payout.

That sounds reasonable to me. Beyond that, though, the firing of Dean (head of consumer market business development), Gurle (Skype for Business), Shaw (who developed Skype's relationships with mobile operators), Albert (head of advertising in the Americas) and Bewsher (chief marketing officer) has to make you wonder about the future of Skype in the hands of Microsoft.

The software giant says it intends to hook Skype into several of its existing products, including Outlook email, smartphones (presumably WP7) and Xbox. But what about Skype's core business, offering free Internet voice and video service to consumers?

As one of Skype's 170 million users, I'm not optimistic. Nor should you be.

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