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Satya Nadella: Can a data geek solve Microsoft's consumer puzzle?

Mark Hachman | Feb. 5, 2014
Satya Nadella is a spider.

"Qi Lu captured it well in a recent meeting when he said that Microsoft uniquely empowers people to 'do more,'" Nadella added. "This doesn't mean that we need to do more things, but that the work we do empowers the world to do more of what they care about — get stuff done, have fun, communicate and accomplish great things."

Put simply, Nadella is a data-driven geek, now thrust out into the messy world of marketing and customer relationships. And if you doubt that, check out the video below.

Help still needed
Of the many candidates supposedly up for the Microsoft CEO post, Nadella is one of the few (the only?) with no CEO experience. Managing a business of Microsoft's complexity and current strategic position would be a challenge for anyone, although with Gates' help, the transition may be manageable.

"Let's be clear: There is no one Microsoft CEO candidate who will be great at everything. There has never been," said Patrick Moorhead, principal at Moor Insights and Strategy. Nadella is a "very experienced and successful guy in the software space," Moorhead says, but questions whether the new CEO can confidently navigate Microsoft's consumer challenges: Windows, Surface, and wringing profits from Xbox. "This is a big job for him," Morehead says.

Moorhead called Nadella an "executor" of the Ballmer plan, rather than a strategist. With Gates serving as a de facto mentor, it's likely that Microsoft is in good hands. But just don't expect Nadella to deviate too far from the course.

"A leadership transition is a delicate balance between continuity and disruption.The most important thing for the Microsoft board right now is to make sure that Satya Nadella is fully supported without being hamstrung," said Ted Schadler, an analyst for Forrester, in an email. "Bill Gates leaving and Steve Ballmer staying on as a board member would accomplish that."

In an interview, Schadler said that Gates' implicit backing will give Nadella the political cover he needs to go further. "I think the push to the cloud is the best [move], and I think Nadella is going to push that faster," he said.

Nadella should get a honeymoon period of about six months to a year, according to Moorhead, although one management consultant who declined to be named (for work done with Microsoft, or may do in the future) said that Nadella will probably receive three quarters, depending on how Microsoft fares. Gates will probably be seen by Wall Street as a Jobs-like figure that can return Microsoft to glory, the consultant said, offset by Nadella's relative inexperience.

David Mitchell Smith, a Gartner fellow and vice president, agreed that Microsoft won't look dramatically different in the short term. "It was a good choice, not a perfect choice," he said of Nadella's appointment a CEO.

 

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