The honeymoon is on. Microsoft finally announced a new CEO yesterday: Satya Nadella. And the blogosphere seemingly could not be more pleased.
And I have to admit, reading all the coverage, Nadella sounds like the right choice. He knows Microsoft. He was leading the one division inside the company without question marks. He knows his tech. And everyone seems to like him.
But all of this overlooks the obvious question: if he seems like such a slam dunk, why wasn’t he?
Why did Microsoft’s Board drag their feet for months to zero-in on Nadella, the guy right in front of them? Perhaps they were simply being diligent. Or perhaps he was not as much of a slam dunk as he now seems in hindsight. I hate to break up the honeymoon, but the months in flux don’t lie. Nadella was clearly not a slam dunk.
That does not mean he’s a bad choice. Again, he sounds like the right choice. But at the very least, it calls into question the Board’s process for finding Steve Ballmer’s replacement. At worst, it raises more questions going forward.
The good news is that we should know more relatively quickly. One of Nadella’s first orders of business will be closing the Nokia deal and integrating the company (and its 32,000 employees) into Microsoft. Such a giant maneuver would likely be a nightmare under the best conditions, for a first-time CEO, it will be trial-by-fire.
And then there’s the simple task of making sure Stephen Elop, the passed-over heir-apparent, is happy. Remember the weird Bloomberg story about him wanting to essentially blow-up Microsoft if made CEO? It was never clear if that was leaked by his own camp or by the camp of one of his rivals. What if it was Nadella’s camp? Awkward.
Don’t forget Julie Larson-Green, who was promoted in the Microsoft re-org last summer and seemingly immediately demoted once the Nokia deal was announced. If Elop was elevated to CEO, Larson-Green would have presumably had her promotion back. But Elop is not going to be CEO. So…
And then there are the continued whispers of Microsoft being broken up into parts. If there was a CEO to do this, it seems like the more enterprise/cloud-focused1 Nadella would be a good choice. And with ValueAct President Mason Morfit set to take a Board seat, and Bill Gates no longer Chairman of that Board, you have to assume Nadella is going to feel some pressure once this honeymoon is over.2
But Gates is back! Out of all the news in this cycle, this does strike me as the most significant. Even if Gates isn’t going to be integral on a daily basis, at the very least, his role as a yes/no man could be crucial for the company. And perhaps his continued influence can postpone the seemingly inevitable end to Microsoft as a consumer company.
Look, I’m rooting for Microsoft. I know that given the devices I prefer and where I work, this will sound disingenuous. But I mean it. Microsoft was once the tech company I admired above all others. And if nothing else, I firmly believe that a strong Microsoft only helps push the entire ecosystem forward, faster. Competition is not only good, it’s vital. And no company will be more competitive than a strong Microsoft. Any way you slice it, that would be a huge win for us, the consumers.
Good luck and Godspeed, Mr. Nadella.