updated 1/12/2005 8:15:05 AM ET 2005-01-12T13:15:05

Microsoft Corp. said Tuesday that its chief financial officer, John Connors, was leaving after 16 years with the software giant to join a Seattle-area venture capital firm.

A replacement for Connors, 45, was not immediately named. The company said it planned to consider both internal and external candidates. (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

The announcement was unexpected. Matt Rosoff, with independent analysts Directions on Microsoft, said Connors is well-regarded both inside and outside the company and saw no indication that upper management was unhappy with Connor's performance.

Instead, Rosoff said Connors may have seen a good window of opportunity to leave, now that the company has put many of its legal battles behind it and a restructuring to create seven major business units.

"If you have to leave, you want to do it at a relatively quiet time," Rosoff said.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Connors said there was "no big precipitous event" prompting his decision to leave Microsoft. In five years as the finance chief of the world's largest software company, Connors said he felt like he had accomplished many key goals, including improving financial performance and finding ways for the company to save money.

"It was time to really think about a new chapter," he said.

Connors said he surprised Chief Executive Steve Ballmer with his decision late last week, and made clear that he could not be persuaded to change his mind.

"John has done an awesome job building a world-class finance organization for Microsoft and leaves behind him a very capable team," Ballmer said in a statement.

Rosoff said he didn't see an obvious person to replace Connors. But given Microsoft's culture, he expected the company to look internally before considering an outsider.

"Typically Microsoft has not had good luck hiring outsiders for executive positions," he said.

Connors will work with the company to assist in the transition. He said he plans to take some time off before joining venture capital firm Ignition Partners in April.

Ignition, based in Bellevue, was founded in 2000 by former executives at Microsoft and McCaw Cellular Communications.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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