Fast-Rising MSN Star Goes on Leave

Matt Kursh, who rose quickly within Microsoft's new-media ranks to run a large part of its Internet portal, has taken a leave of absence.

Kursh, 35, sold his software company eShop to Microsoft in 1996. Since then, he ran the Home Advisor real estate service and Sidewalk city guides, graduating to running MSN.com, minus the auto, real estate and travel channels and communication services. He began his leave in mid-December to await the birth of his first child - due any day now - and also to mull over his future and the burgeoning Internet startup scene.

"My background's in startups," says Kursh. "I'm used to the ups and downs."

He's still officially an employee, but "there's a pretty good chance I'll leave Microsoft," adds Kursh. "I have no feeling for what I'll do. Once we have the baby, things will surely be different."

His goodbye message that circulated last month - an elaborate Web page with cartoon parables and reminiscences of his tenure - also had an air of finality.

"Stay hungry and stay humble," it exhorted.

Kursh dropped out of college to start his first company, which he sold to Macintosh software maker Claris four years later. After two more companies, he sold eShop. Many at MSN saw him as an up-and-comer, perhaps ready to take the helm of the entire portal business, but Kursh says he had a self-imposed three-year ceiling and was ready to leave last summer.

Incoming consumer division chief Rick Belluzzo convinced him to stay on until the recent reorganization, which consolidated new-media businesses, including the portal, the WebTV service, and the ISP business into one unit under Belluzzo. But Kursh feels the reorg held nothing "magical" enough for him to reconsider leaving.

Challenges Kursh would now like to tackle include the evolution of home appliances, playing more piano (he was a music major in college), and the brave new world of fatherhood.

Meanwhile, the division he leaves has once again reorganized - not unusual at Microsoft, where constant hierarchical tinkering is encouraged. It's significant, however, that the reorg is the first under Belluzzo, who was hired in September after a protracted, high-profile search. During the search, several people - including former executives Brad Silverberg and Greg Maffei - were close to signing on.

A previous version of this story contained erroneous information in the seventh paragraph.

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