(Bloomberg) — Augmented reality startup Magic Leap Inc. has hired Peggy Johnson, a Microsoft Corp. executive, to take over as chief executive officer starting next month, as the company continues to reshape itself as a provider of business services.
Magic Leap had been one of the buzziest startups in recent years. It raised more than $2 billion from high-profile investors including Alphabet Inc., largely on the promise that it would turn augmented reality into a viable consumer technology. Rony Abovitz, the company founder and CEO, became the de facto evangelist for augmented reality, with bold and colorful pronouncements of its potential.
But the Florida-based company struggled to execute, and sales of its flagship product, the Magic Leap One headset, never took off after extensive delays. The company said late last year it would focus more on business applications, and cut more than half of its workforce in April. Selling to companies is a far different prospect than building a consumer product, and one Abovitz rarely showed as much enthusiasm for. He announced in May he would step down once the company found a replacement.
Johnson, who spent more than two decades at Qualcomm Inc., brings extensive experience negotiating partnerships with other large businesses. She joined Microsoft in 2014 as one of CEO Satya Nadella’s first major hires, at a time when the software maker’s dealings with other companies were often contentious. As head of business development, Johnson worked to repair Microsoft’s relationships with partners like Salesforce.com Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., becoming the face of a new, friendlier company. In 2016 she started Microsoft’s venture capital arm M12.
“I look forward to strategically building enduring relationships that connect Magic Leap’s game-changing technology and pipeline to the wide-ranging digital needs of enterprises of all sizes and industries,” Johnson said Tuesday in a statement.
Microsoft also makes one of the main rivals to Magic Leap, the Hololens, which it has always positioned primarily as a business tool. A Microsoft spokesperson said the company is satisfied that any confidentiality issues arising from Johnson moving to a direct competitor have been addressed.
Microsoft will conduct an internal and external search to find Johnson’s replacement and her duties will be assumed in the short term by Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood, who already oversees mergers and acquisitions, according to a spokesperson.
(Updates with background on Johnson in the fourth paragraph.)
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