What Satya Nadella must do right away as Microsoft's new CEO
Microsoft's new CEO faces some big challenges. Thank goodness an army of tech pundits are there to tell him exactly what he needs to do. Here's a roundup of advice for Nadella, from a worldwide collection of voices.
Every columnist and editor has a checklist of story types, templates that get dropped into current events to fill pages.
Microsoft’s announcement last week that it was naming Satya Nadella as only the third CEO in the company’s history brought out one of the most consistent of those evergreen story types, the “XX Things The New Company/CEO Must Do Right Now” piece.
Of course, I had my own entry in the category last week:
Right up front, I want to make it clear that I'm not so much smarter than Nadella that I can tell him how to do his job:
I’m not going to pretend that I have enough insight or experience to tell Satya Nadella how to run Microsoft. (And I’m always amused by my colleagues when the “18 Things Satya Nadella Must Do Now to Save Microsoft” phase begins.)
But I do think I have a pretty good handle on the challenges he’s facing right now. And my guess is that these items are all high on Nadella’s to-do list.
In fact, I'm not sure that many of those challenges have a single right answer. Any CEO can make the right strategic decision and then botch its execution, or make a questionable decision and accidentally succeed when the competition stumbles.
But that uncertainty hasn't stopped some analysts and editors from wading into the fray.
I’ve been collecting examples over the past week. If you’ve missed the flurry of advice that tech pundits have been offering to the new CEO, here’s your chance to catch up.
In the Financial Times, West Coast Managing Editor Richard Waters plays a game of Pundit Ping-Pong, laying out a fairly black-and-white vision of Nadella’s options:
For all the plaudits given this week to his deep technical nous, there is no easy solution to the dilemma the new Microsoft boss faces. With minor adjustments, the company can continue for years on its current course. That is exactly what part of Wall Street, with a penchant for cash flows it can map out in the medium term, is calling for as it urges him to narrow the company’s focus to business and government customers.
But – like IBM, which is facing a growth crisis after years of squeezing cash out of existing businesses – to follow that course would risk eventually hitting a wall.
That’s followed by a similarly dualistic analysis of cloud and mobile options, leading up to this:
Retreat is not an option. Consumer markets have become the touchstones for innovation in the technology world, the places where the new ideas and behaviours are being formed. To abandon them would be to leave the company’s most profitable flank exposed to rivals using their ties with personal users to break into the enterprise market.
Satya Nadella must renew the world’s faith in Microsoft and then deliver on his promises if the aging technology giant is to flourish anew.
From there, the advice homogenizes into a series of platitudes and quotes from analysts, starting with Rob Enderle of The Enderle Group that Nadella “has got to repair Microsoft’s image. People have to see the company as an up-and-comer and not as a legacy firm that is past its prime.”
I’m thinking basic Jedi Master powers might come in handy to pull that one off.
Margaret Heffernan of CBS MoneyWatch argues that Microsoft needs to “rebuild credibility.” To do that, “it needs to be more considered and concerted in everything it does.”
As an aside, being considered and concerted seems like a checklist item on the job description for the CEO of a Fortune 50 corporation. But I digress.
The “Here’s what the company needs” list is scattershot, to put it kindly, with a bulleted list of broad, touchy-feely suggestions like building “a coherent culture” and delivering “software and hardware that interoperates seamlessly.”
Finally, this conclusion comes down firmly on the side of “I have no idea”:
The big question, of course, remains whether Microsoft will slim down, exit some businesses or break itself into smaller units. There are no obvious answers here; everything depends on the logic behind decisions.
In most companies, reorganizations and re-engineering typically cost a full year in lost innovation and productivity. Nadella will want to avoid that – unless he believes the status quo is more costly still.
At the Motley Fool, stock-market enthusiasts are treated to this broadside from MSFT shareholder Daniel Kline. He compares Windows 8 adoption rates to the identical period for Windows 7, using NetMarketShare statistics, complete with a chart, and then goes through a lengthy on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand-on-the-other-other-hand recitation of how the PC market is slowing as the tablet and smartphone markets explode.
And then, finally, we get to the “What Satya Nadella must do” part:
Still, with PC sales dismal but stabilizing, Nadella has the money and time to attempt to convince his customer base – still 90.7% of the PC market – to stay in the family. If he can do that, while building mobile share with Surface and putting Windows 8 phones back on a growth path, the new CEO cand be perceived as a success whereas the same results from Ballmer would likely have been perceived as a failure.
That’s it. No details on exactly how to accomplish that Herculean task of convincing Microsoft customers to stay in the family. Just “Satya, figure it out.”
At The Guardian, Charles Arthur calls Windows Phone “a waste of money which will never pay off.” His recommendation is to follow the Amazon playbook and use Google’s code in a sort of OS jiu-jitsu move:
Forking Android wouldn’t be trivial, but Microsoft could take the Android Open Source Platform (AOSP) that is already widely used in China and put new services on top. It is already licensing Here maps from Nokia (the bit that’s not being sold to it). It could add its own mail client and app store. It has its own search engine, Bing, which has needed a major mobile deal. As with Windows Phone, setting up or signing in to an outlook.com email account could be your first step. Everything’s ready.
Most useful of all, developers who have written Android apps would be able to port them over with minimal effort - as has happened with Amazon’s Kindle Fire effort. (That also uses Nokia’s maps.) Microsoft already knows how to run an app store. There’s also the example of BlackBerry, which in its desperate efforts to create an attractive app store for BB10 (launched in 2013, and so at least five years late) has made Android compatibility a major playing point. (BlackBerry’s problem is that it can’t sell enough handsets.)
After all, what’s been the biggest complaint about Windows Phone? Not enough apps. The handsets have been fine (that’s Nokia’s expertise) but the wildly popular apps for Android and iOS haven’t been ported.
Also see Tim Anderson’s detailed analysis, in which he concludes that abandoning Windows Phone “makes little sense” and would be “a doomed strategy that will result in a much shrunken Microsoft.”
Personally, I think an installed base of 50 million with the potential to be over 100 million in a year or so is decent momentum, and the convergence of Windows Phone and Windows RT (native apps for Windows 8+ on smartphones, tablets, and PCs) makes sense.
But even more importantly, I believe abandoning yet another platform (remember Silverlight?) after convincing developers to build more than 100,000 apps for it would be a terrible idea. It would singlehandedly destroy any remaining shred of credibility with Microsoft's existing developer community.
Ashlee Vance of BusinessWeek wants to see Nadella place some bigger bets on technology coming out of its research laps. He also points out the differences between Microsoft and Google as publicly traded companies that make those bets dicey for a CEO:
Google, with its “Don’t Be Evil” slogan and risk-taking co-founders, is often allowed to make massive gambles without investors pushing back at all.
For Microsoft, such scenarios do not exist. Every time it hints at a forthcoming, risky product, investors immediately push as to why the company is “wasting” money outside its core business software market, and they want to know when these new, fanciful products will be sold—and at what profit margins.
Still, the advice to exploit Microsoft Research technologies and turn them into products is fundamentally sound.
Give Forbes contributor Peter Cohan the medal for most audacious suggestion.
Microsoft will never innovate in Redmond, Wash. For that, it needs to move to San Francisco. In Seattle, the lack of competing opportunity for its talent spurs complacency by employees and management.
But in San Francisco, rivalry for that talent would be fierce — forcing Microsoft to create an environment that give top talent the chance to build market-share-grabbing products targeting big markets.
If it’s serious about innovation, it must compete with the globe’s best in its home town.
My favorite quote: “Microsoft declined to comment.”