Fell From the Tree

Satya Nadella Named Next Microsoft CEO

At long last, the search is over. Microsoft has named Satya Nadella, formerly the Executive Vice President of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group. In a press release, Microsoft says of Nadella:

Since joining the company in 1992, Nadella has spearheaded major strategy and technical shifts across the company’s portfolio of products and services, most notably the company’s move to the cloud and the development of one of the largest cloud infrastructures in the world supporting Bing, Xbox, Office and other services. During his tenure overseeing Microsoft’s Server and Tools Business, the division outperformed the market and took share from competitors.

I’m skeptical.

I don’t doubt Nadella’s technical ability — he’s done an incredible job with Microsoft’s cloud offerings. I don’t even doubt the implications of making the cloud services chief CEO — it’s certainly the company’s best initiative outside of its cash cows of Office and Windows. But lets be honest, he was a safe choice.

Before being pushed out last year1, back in 2008, Ballmer very publicly announced his intentions of being CEO until 2018. Over the next few years, he proceeded to push out every possible successor to solidify is position. One by one, Robbie Bach, Ray Ozzie, and Steven Sinofsky all jettisoned from the company. Satya Nadella is all that remains.

Though still profitable, Nadella is inheriting Ballmer’s Microsoft. The company maintains its strong position in enterprise, but is in no way as strong as it once was in the consumer space. With PC sales steadily declining, and no foothold in mobile at all, Microsoft is struggling to maintain its position in the public mindshare. Their one bright star here is Xbox, though it’s not exactly a money maker. Nadella is even inheriting major organization changes dictated by Ballmer just before announcing his retirement, meaning he won’t be free to restructure the company if he has a different vision for Microsoft.

Still, my biggest concern is whether someone who has been at the company for 22 years is capable of introducing meaningful change. He’s worked under Gates and Ballmer his entire career. Now that he’s CEO, will he really be the one steering the ship? Even with the news today that Bill Gates is stepping down as chairman of the board, his plans to spend more time at Microsoft worry me. Will Nadella ever be free to truly transform the behemoth that is Microsoft with Ballmer and Gates breathing down his neck?

I certainly hope so. But only time will tell.

  1. And make no mistake, he was pushed, however gentle it may have been