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Preston McAfee

Microsoft this morning announced a new position of chief economist inside the company, and named Preston McAfee — most recently Google’s director of strategic technologies — to fill the role.

Apart from picking up a key person from one of its biggest rivals, the position represents an effort by Microsoft’s new leadership team to change how the company operates and makes decisions.

In a post announcing the hire this morning, Microsoft executive Harry Shum says Microsoft’s goal is to “make fewer decisions on intuition and more based on market and other data.”

McAfee will focus on “developing new business models and metrics, designing marketplaces for advertising and apps, assisting with government relations and policy, and developing an economic strategy for the company,” writes Shum, who oversees the company’s overall technical direction as executive vice president of Microsoft’s Technology and Research Group.

Shum says the move reflects an effort by Microsoft to embrace a data-driven culture under new CEO Satya Nadella.

“Our industry is barely a hundred years old, and we’re certainly entering a new, more human era of computing where our technology and the companies that provide it will work more under the user’s control and at the user’s command,” Shum writes. “Our economic models are evolving, too. In the Ford economy, you got what was available: one car, one color; in the Starbucks economy you got what you ordered, no matter how complicated; and now in the Pandora economy, you get what you like because the service keeps learning about you, tuning itself to your needs and desires.”

McAfee, a former California Institute of Technology professor, was Yahoo’s chief economist from 2007 to 2012.

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