How Satya Nadella will lead Microsoft differently

Incoming Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Incoming Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Image: Microsoft
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Satya Nadella is ”honored,” “humbled,” and confident about Microsoft’s future.

In his open letter to Microsoft employees, Nadella checked all of the boxes for a CEO introduction. The letter also serves to distance the company from outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer and its recent past, and lays out a philosophy of leadership that promises to be less abrasive, and to acknowledge how far behind the company is in things like cloud services and mobile. 

The letter doesn’t mention Ballmer, and instead emphasizes Bill Gates’ bigger role at the company. Nadella doesn’t lay out a list of Microsoft’s accomplishments measured by a dollar figure or argue that the company is in perfect health. He defines what the company is good at—providing a consistent and powerful software platform—and lays out an ideal way to service modern consumers, instead of just helping businesses: 

We are the only ones who can harness the power of software and deliver it through devices and services that truly empower every individual and every organization. We are the only company with history and continued focus in building platforms and ecosystems that create broad opportunity.

Qi Lu captured it well in a recent meeting when he said that Microsoft uniquely empowers people to “do more.” 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. This is the core of who we are, and driving this core value in all that we do — be it the cloud or device experiences — is why we are here.

What do we do next?

To paraphrase a quote from Oscar Wilde — we need to believe in the impossible and remove the improbable.

Pretty lyrical for an enterprise software guy. He’s also acknowledging how bloated the company’s gotten, and how it’s failed to connect with end-users. Ballmer started a reorganization last summer, but it was years late, and he quickly complicated things by spending billions on Nokia’s hardware business.

It will be up to Nadella to enact that plan, or decide which parts of the company are, as he puts it, “improbable” and worth ditching.

No one doubted Ballmer’s enthusiasm or commitment to Microsoft. But he could be abrasive in private, aggressive in public, and wasn’t always easy to relate to. He managed to alienate key executives at the company.  It’s going to be much easier for the average Microsoft employee or customer to see themselves in the new CEO. Here’s how he describes himself:

I am 46. I’ve been married for 22 years and we have 3 kids. And like anyone else, a lot of what I do and how I think has been shaped by my family and my overall life experiences. Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things. So family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge all define me.

Based on the letter, Microsoft employees and shareholders can expect a quieter, more thoughtful style of leadership, and a renewed focus on a future in which the company can’t mint money from its legacy businesses.