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Microsoft CEO Nadella aces first-100-day test

Gregg Keizer | May 16, 2014
'A or A-,' says expert who spelled out to-do list in February.

Likewise, Nadella got good marks from Ottinger on setting Microsoft's direction, which had seemed adrift under Ballmer.

"He's been very clear on the big opportunities for the company, so I'd give him an A on that as well," said Ottinger. "His 'mobile-first, cloud-first' is a simple drumbeat. You can digest it. And then he made moves so that people understood what he meant by that."

At the top of the list, Ottinger put Office for iPad, the apps launched in late March that ended years of speculation about whether Microsoft would support Apple's popular tablet at the expense of Windows, and if so, when. Others moves included the release of Enterprise Mobility Suite, a toolset for managing mobile devices running Android and iOS, and the elimination of Windows licensing fees for smartphones and smaller tablets.

A host of Azure announcements this week only added to the opportunity pot Ottinger said Nadella is filling.

All those were clear evidence, Ottinger contended, of Nadella's "mobile-first, cloud-first" mantra in action. "These were all highly visible changes," he said. "It's important to do as well as say if you're going to have any kind of credibility."

But not everything Nadella touched turned to gold, said Ottinger, who pointed out that the new CEO has not been able to revamp the board, another major task he had put in front of Nadella in February.

Ottinger applauded Nadella's push to get Bill Gates out of the chairman's seat, and on his side as an advisor. "Really good move," Ottinger said. "He could have either asked Gates to play an active role supporting him, or ask him to leave. Nadella chose the first, and made clear what he wanted. So that was good. But his ability to make changes on the board was limited, so I'd have to give him an A- there."

Analysts, including one from Wall Street, had worried that Nadella, being an insider, would have to deal with Gates and Ballmer looking over his shoulder if they remained in powerful positions on the board. In turn, that would, the experts feared, limit Nadella's options.

There's still that risk: Gates remains on the board, even though he has been replaced as chairman by John Thompson, a former IBM and Symantec executive. Ballmer, who recently became the largest individual shareholder when Gates continued to sell off his stake, stuck around, too. "The best thing [for Nadella] would be for Ballmer to leave, so there's not second-guessing," said Ottinger.

That's not happened.

What has happened, said Ottinger, is Nadella imparting a sense of urgency to the company's leadership and to the rank-and-file.

Under Ballmer, urgency took a vacation, analysts said earlier this year. In fact, if the reports were right about Ballmer's fall, he was ousted because of the slow speed of change under his watch.


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