If ‘iPad is a toy’ commercials are any indication, this will be a tough task as Nadella is cut from the same cloth.
The 4th of February is the September 11th of Satya Nadella’s already fun-less childhood. The boy who lives with his parents in Guntur was like any other 10-year-old blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that was to befall him on a chilly February morning. But once the local Telugu papers and news channels went berserk with the news that a Telugu man would head tech giant Microsoft and once his parents realised that their kid shares his name with a man whom some newspapers dubbed the greatest Telugu man since NTR, there was no looking back. Now Satya’s days start at five in the morning and for the next 14 hours he toils at the Chaitanya Techno School and IIT Foundation in the hopes that he will one day be called the next ‘Telugu Tejam’.
His appointment may have been a death knell for the childhoods of millions of schoolchildren in India, but Satya Nadella’s ascent to the top job at the struggling maker of Windows made millions of Microsoft watchers, stock holders and employees happy for the simplest reason that he is NOT Steve Ballmer.
Nadella’s appointment came after one of the longest searches in corporate history to find a CEO for a major technology giant. The fact that the said company is Microsoft made it even more difficult. Unlike an Apple whose competencies lie in just one or two industries, Microsoft is a multi-headed beast. On the one hand the new CEO had to rescue the consumer side of the business from stagnation. With falling PC sales, an operating system that is much reviled in Windows 8, and the inability to move on successfully into the mobile space increasingly dominated by Apple and Android, this by no means is an easy task. On the other hand there is the enterprise business which has slowly grown to be the company’s biggest revenue generator in the past decade. Keeping and, more importantly, growing that business is also not an easy task. Add other businesses like the XBox, the Bing search engine and the hardware division that has acquired Nokia, it is not a surprise that the Microsoft board took as long as it took to find a replacement for Ballmer. In the process many names were thrown around. At one time Ford CEO Alan Mulally, and the man who successfully drove Nokia into the ground Stephen Elop were thought to be the front runners. Nadella beat them all not just because of what he did but also because of what he did not do.
Nadella has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Mangalore University and a master’s in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee along with an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. After a short stint at Microsoft rival Sun Microsystems, Nadella joined Microsoft in 1992 just before the release of Windows 95 and the PC explosion. Over the next 20 years, he has successfully navigated the notoriously political minefield called Microsoft with insiders vouching for him in various interviews that he has managed to not step on any toes. Before being appointed the CEO, he successfully ran the Cloud and Enterprise Group as its vice president.
The problem for him is that compared to what lies ahead of him, the last 20 years will look like a walk in the park. While there are a hundred problems he can individually solve, the biggest and the most needed challenge for him would be changing the culture at the company which refuses to come into the 21st century. It is for him to understand and to make his company understand that there is a very thin line between understanding and not understanding the modern consumer. If the ‘iPad is a toy’ commercials that Microsoft is running to promote its tablet computer Surface are any indication, this is going to be a tough task particularly as Nadella is very much cut from the same cloth.
That tough task has been made much more tougher by Nadella himself asking the founder of the company Bill Gates to spend more time at the company. Like an old relative who has taken your invitation to come and stay with you seriously, Gates is back at Microsoft and wants to give ‘third of (his) time available to product groups… to define this next round of products’. While most of the blame for Microsoft’s present woes is placed at the doors of Ballmer, it is often forgotten that it was Gates who has initially missed the coming Internet revolution. Probably irritated by the sainthood conferred upon Steve Jobs since he himself left Microsoft, Gates probably wants to get his pin-up status back; this could prove a big problem for Nadella.
More than anything, what Nadella the new driver needs to do now is execute some sharp and bold turns. With an old driver set in his old ways giving directions from the backseat, Nadella will find himself looking over his shoulders at every turn. How well he manages not to crash will determine how great an impact he will have on the company and on the industry.
The writer is a tech geek. Email: email@example.com