What Will Microsoft Be Like if Satya Nadella Becomes CEO?

Nadella speaking at the Microsoft 2013 Build Developers Conference in San Francisco Photographer by Kim Kulish/Corbis

About two years ago, I made a pilgrimage to Microsoft. Steve Ballmer had spent a few months appointing fresh leaders for many of Microsoft’s major business units, and it was time to meet the new crew. Over the course of a couple of days, it became clear that the new executives had a spark and a level of energy that the company’s upper executive echelon had been missing for some time. One of the most impressive members of this new bunch was Satya Nadella, head of Microsoft’s cloud and data center software group and the man who seems likely to be tapped as the company’s next chief executive officer, according to my colleagues at Bloomberg News.

Nadella would certainly represent a conservative choice for Microsoft. He’s a sharp, persuasive individual who has spent more than 20 years working at the company. Crucially, he’s more or less Microsoft’s cloud master and has a firm handle on what it takes to run Bing, Office365, Skype, and Xbox Live. Nadella is also well-liked and respected throughout the industry. And he’s enough of a different character from Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates to inject some new life into the company.

What Nadella is not is the radical agent of change or the inspirational visionary that some investors and outsiders have been hoping for. He seems likely to keep pushing on Microsoft’s data center-focused cloud journey and unlikely to take any drastic measures around consumer products.

Microsoft has not done itself or Nadella any favors by taking this long to pick a CEO. To outsiders, it seems that Microsoft’s board was uninspired by internal candidates, decided to go hunting elsewhere, couldn’t find a fit, and then returned home to settle on a familiar face.

As Bloomberg News reported, there also appears to be talk of replacing Bill Gates as chairman with an existing board member. That’s an odd move, too. It represents a big break with the past and a willingness to change, for sure. But Microsoft’s board isn’t exactly known as the most proactive, decisive bunch. So trade Gates, the legend, for a lesser figure? It’s hard to imagine anyone doing a Monkey Boy dance for that.

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