Satya Nadella, the new face of Microsoft, one year later

Kip Kniskern

Satya Nadella

A year ago today Satya Nadella, a 21 year Microsoft veteran who had risen through the ranks of some of Microsoft’s most important divisions, was announced as its third CEO.  Following founder Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, who took over from Gates in 2000.  Ballmer had announced that he was stepping down some 5 months earlier, in August 2013, amid lackluster performance, a controversial decision to acquire Nokia’s phones businesses, and a general ho-hum attitude about Microsoft and Ballmer’s ability to lead it by investors.

Microsoft undertook a search for a new CEO, first concentrating on a new fresh face, but couldn’t woo Alan Mulally from Ford, and although there were a number of other names that surfaced, Microsoft’s Board of Directors kept coming back to Nadella.

Satya Nadella, the new face of Microsoft, one year later

An engineer by training, not a sales guy like Ballmer, Nadella worked on some of Microsoft’s most technical and also most challenging projects, as a VP in the Business Division, helping to build what would become Bing at Online Services, and then taking over Server and Tools, and then working on Azure as EVP of the Cloud and Enterprise Group.  In each of those positions, Nadella worked to cut layers of bureaucracy and untangle code, and placed the focus on the customer.

Nadella has made inroads into doing the same across the company as CEO, cutting some 18,000 jobs as he streamlined the integration of those phones businesses into the core of the company, dropping Asha and the ill-fated and short lived Nokia X Android phone, and introducing Windows 10, a work still very much in progress.

But in truth, much of what Nadella is steering now was in place long before he took the reins.  Microsoft’s investors were looking for positive change, and a move away from what had become a tired act in Ballmer.  Nadella has provided a fresh face, and shined new light on projects that may have been started by Ballmer, but were at the same time tainted by the market’s view of him as out of touch.

There’s more to the story than just a fresh coat of paint, though, and everywhere from blog posts to the way the Windows Insider program is being run to hallway conversations at Microsoft events, Microsoft employees are talking about a change in the company.  The recently announced HoloLens, slated to become an Xbox accessory for games, under Nadella has widened its vision, and we may be seeing the HoloLens in offices as well as game rooms.  We’re seeing Microsoft spread Office and services to other platforms, not reluctantly, but confidently. 

Nadella is changing the culture at Microsoft, maybe at this point just playing the cards Ballmer left for him a bit differently, but he’s blurring lines across divisions, given the company a fresh start, and the truly Satya led initiatives are on the way.  

In his first year, Nadella has taken some good first steps towards putting his own stamp on the company, and generally made a good first impression. Once Windows 10 launches, and especially with the way he handles Windows Phone and the company’s recent stock market troubles, we’ll learn more about what a true Satya Nadella led Microsoft will look like.