Microsoft appointing Satya Nadella was far from a surprise: leaks several days ago suggested strongly that his name was to be engraved on the CEO’s office door. But while lacking in surprise, today’s announcement marks the beginning of a change in direction for the firm.
“They’re headed into a new chapter,” Gartner fellow David Mitchell Smith told V3. “Any assumptions you might have had about the company, you’ll need to revisit; it isn’t going to be business as usual.”
This is best illustrated not by looking at the change at the very top, but by looking at what Microsoft’s first CEO Bill Gates will be doing.
Gates will be “substantially increasing” his time at the company, dedicating a third of his time working with product teams as he switches from chairman to technology advisor. This clear focus on devices – an area in which Microsoft has fallen a worryingly long way behind in the past half decade, while Apple and Google has flourished – will prove to Microsoft’s investors that it knows where it needs to be concentrating.
Nadella, meanwhile, headed up one of Microsoft’s most successful divisions, taking on cloud and enterprise products with aplomb. With his leadership extending to the rest of the company, he should be able to use his experience to guide his company to success in other areas.
“Their cloud strategy has been pretty successful,” Smith said. “I would say that Satya Nadella had a lot to do with making that so; he was part of the group that took in from something that wasn’t really going anywhere to a major contender."
Outgoing chief executive Steve Ballmer and his successor could not be more different in terms of character. From the scripted PR videos we’ve seen and from Nadella’s letter to Microsoft, he comes across as meek and friendly, but with a quiet determination about him. He's already changed his Twitter bio, for one.
Kantar Worldpanel analyst Carolina Milanesi summed it up in a tweet as she noted the difference in words used in the emails from Ballmer and Nadella on the announcement.
@danworthV3 two adjectives in their emails sum up the difference: humbled vs pumped— carolina milanesi (@caro_milanesi) February 4, 2014
Ballmer, by his own admission was “big, bald and loud”, and it appears the atmosphere at Redmond is set to be very different. Nadella’s rhetoric in his letter to the company and his video interviews is heavily focused on honing Microsoft into a sleeker, more efficient machine more able to tackle the issues of a fast-changing technology world.
“To paraphrase a quote from Oscar Wilde: we need to believe in the impossible and remove the improbable,” the poetry-loving 46-year-old said.
“This starts with clarity of purpose and sense of mission that will lead us to imagine the impossible and deliver it. We need to prioritise innovation that is centered on our core value of empowering users and organisations to do more'. We have picked a set of high-value activities as part of our One Microsoft strategy. And with every service and device launch going forward we need to bring more innovation to bear around these scenarios.”
In his own letter, Ballmer said this of Nadella: “Satya is a proven leader. He’s got strong technical skills and great business insights. He has a remarkable ability to see what's going on in the market, to sense opportunity, and to really understand how we come together at Microsoft to execute against those opportunities in a collaborative way.”
Shining praise, for sure, but it will be down to investors and the market to assess whether Nadella is really cut out for the job.
This is a bold new era for Microsoft. Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer have given Nadella all the tools he requires to return Microsoft to its glory days. It’s now up to him to rally his 100,000 employees behind him and to lead the company forward into its next era.
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