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Nadella wins praise for public debut as CEO

Gregg Keizer | March 31, 2014
'Much calmer' than ex-CEO Ballmer, says one analyst in an understatement

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's first public appearance on Thursday was a hit with analysts, who gave him a thumbs up for his time on stage as the company unveiled Office for iPad.

"He was very confident, obviously a whole different character than Ballmer. Much calmer," said Carolina Milanesi, strategic insight director of Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, in an interview Thursday. "Both he and Julie White [a general manager for the Office technical marketing team] spoke very quickly, as if they had a sense of urgency, which they should have."

Milanesi praised Nadella, saying he "did a great job" in his opening remarks as he expounded on his "mobile first, cloud first" strategy. "For the first time I actually see a strategy," Milanesi added.

Nadella spent most of his time trying to describe that "mobile first, cloud first" concept in more specificity, even as he noted that the day's news would be only the first step in what he called a "beginning of exploration" that would continue for months.

"Our customers want to know where we are going, what is our innovation agenda," said Nadella. "[Today] we want to talk about one aspect of our strategy going forward. Over the course of the next couple of weeks and couple of months we will come back, and many other leaders on our team will come back, and talk about other aspects."

"He articulated this emerging strategy," said Ross Rubin, an independent analyst with Reticle Research, in a Friday interview. "He made it clear that this [Office on iPad] was only a piece of the overall strategy."

Nadella was named CEO on Feb. 4, and while he answered questions from another Microsoft executive that day on the company's Redmond, Wash. campus in a staged interview, his first public appearance was dissected by outsiders hoping for insight on his progress in the job.

"I was very impressed," said Rob Koplowitz, an analyst with Forrester Research, in an email today. "First off, I was really glad to see that his first appearance was about Office running on a competing platform. That's a big break from the old Microsoft pattern of always pushing the overall Microsoft stack at every opportunity."

Others made the same point, adding that while Office for iPad's genesis preceded Nadella's tenure, he would receive the bulk of the credit for the detour from Microsoft's long-held "Windows-first" strategy of releasing software first for its own platform.

Some reports before Thursday's announcement claimed that former CEO Steve Ballmer had, along with others in his senior leadership group, made the decision before he retired to launch Office for iPad as soon as it was ready, even if that was prior to touch-first apps for Windows 8.1. If accurate, it meant that Ballmer finally saw the logic of taking Windows off the table, but far too late to save his job.


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