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Ballmer's banker

As a sideline to its technology businesses, Microsoft is in the investing game , if you can call $20.5 billion a sideline.

As a sideline to its technology businesses, Microsoft is in the investing game , if you can call $20.5 billion a sideline. That was the total of "equity and other investments" listed on Microsoft's September 30 balance sheet and reason to bring investment banker Richard Emerson on board from Lazard. The 38-year-old Emerson fills Microsoft's newly created post of senior vice president of corporate development and strategy. He reports to CEO Steve Ballmer and will play a key role in M&A and partnership deals. Some recent transactions, mostly small, helped Microsoft fill gaps in digital music and electronic game technologies. Emerson's background is bigger-ticket. As San Francisco,based co-head of Lazard's technology and telecommunications advisory services, he counseled SBC Communications on its Pacific Telesis merger and MCI on its acquisition by WorldCom. In a prepared statement, Emerson says his ultimate investing goal is "better customer solutions and increased shareholder value." But Lazard CEO William Loomis may have had other returns in mind when he said, "We wish him the best and look forward to a continuing relationship with him."