Microsoft has gone outside the software industry to hire a new finance chief, filling a position that had been vacant for nearly a month...

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Microsoft has gone outside the software industry to hire a new finance chief, filling a position that had been vacant for nearly a month.

The company yesterday named Chris Liddell, chief financial officer of International Paper, to the post. Liddell, 47, lives in Greenwich, Conn., and will soon move here with his wife and two sons.

He starts May 9 and replaces John Connors, who left Microsoft last month to join a venture-capital firm.

Liddell doesn’t have a background in software but said yesterday he didn’t think that would be a problem.

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“I’m not a software engineer and I don’t believe I need to be in order to be a good CFO at Microsoft,” he said. The skills needed for the job — running the core finances, dealing with government regulations and helping shape a strategic agenda — are generic and not industry-specific, he added.

Connors, who served as the company’s CFO for five years, logged 16 years at Microsoft.

Liddell was a nationally ranked rugby player in his native New Zealand but is known for an understated style and down-to-earth attitude. He was CEO of a New Zealand subsidiary of International Paper before joining the Stamford, Conn., company in 2002.

He’s “someone that’s not going to put too much varnish on the story,” said Don Roberts, an analyst who covers International Paper for CIBC World Markets. “He’s not going to give you a lot of hype, and that’s good.”

That Microsoft would tap someone from a blue-chip, established company is an indication of where it sees its own financial picture going forward, analysts said.

“Maybe that’s the kind of thing that Microsoft has to do, now that they themselves are a mature company that is going to rely as much on marketing as innovation,” said Steven Chercover, who covers International Paper for D.A. Davidson. “Maybe it’s a statement of Microsoft’s own admission that they are no longer growing at whatever percent and reinventing the wheel.”

In an e-mail sent to Microsoft employees yesterday, CEO Steve Ballmer said Liddell has done an “outstanding job” at InternaPaper, one of the world’s largest forest-products companies, with $26 billion in annual sales and 83,000 employees.

Liddell has been a chief executive and CFO of international companies, Ballmer wrote, and will contribute broadly and deeply to Microsoft strategies.

The choice shows Microsoft’s interest in the international market and that the company is becoming more than just a technology and software company, said Chris Warner, an analyst with Morningstar.

Charles Di Bona, an analyst with Sanford Bernstein, said Microsoft’s decision to look outside of the software industry is not entirely unexpected nor a bad thing.

“You want a guy who’s a CFO who really will know the books and work that side of the company,” he said. “You want someone to communicate with the Street without being promotional.”

Microsoft is scheduled to report earnings for the third quarter of its fiscal year Thursday.

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or