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Satya Nadella at one year: Grading Microsoft's CEO

Woody Leonhard | Feb. 5, 2015
Make no mistake: A year after he succeeded Steve Ballmer in the job, CEO Satya Nadella firmly controls Microsoft's fate.

At the same time, though, he's handing very capable versions of Office — arguably Windows' greatest selling point, at least in the corporate sphere — to Apple and Google. He's also announced that OneDrive Albums and advanced search are coming to iOS first. That takes more than a little guts.

I'm raising Nadella's strategic vision grade from an A six months ago to an A+ today.

Leadership: Tactical vision

On the tactical vision front, I don't sense much progress. We've seen a lot of yet-unrealized sound and fury in the Windows direction, some strong short-term moves with still-crashing Azure, and a bit of life in the Xbox arena. But we've witnessed nothing but cheap from the phone contingent, some intriguing demos of touch-first Office with nothing notably better than Office for iPad, a lot of backpedaling with OneDrive for Business and OneDrive caching on local machines, and the fact that Surface still needs a serious face-lift.

Last time, I gave Nadella a C for his tactical vision grade. Now, I nudge it up a notch to C+, primarily because of Azure improvements — spectacular outages and all.

Leadership: Communication

For communication, I'll skip lightly over the women-in-computing "karma" gaffe, noting only that sometimes very smart people say very dumb things. Haven't you?

On the very positive side, Nadella managed to sideline "Scroogled" ad inventor Mark Penn. "Scroogled" marked a new low in the those-who-live-in-glass-houses milieu. Now, it's nothing but a negative memory. On the very damning side, Nadella originally approved the "Scroogled" campaign — the first ones appeared after he took over.

Under Nadella, the messaging has gone from "devices and services" to a "productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world." That's off-putting to those of us who have to stay productive in a world that's only occasionally mobile and not all that cloudy. The surprise announcement last month of the HoloLens virtual-reality headset and Windows 10 APIs muddies Microsoft's direction even more.

Can I point to one statement — or even a group of statements — that tell me where Microsoft is headed? Not really. There's an excellent Wired article by Jessi Hempel that gives an impression of what Nadella is doing. But it isn't from Nadella or even Microsoft. Communication remains a neglected stepchild.

I see nothing pointing to an improvement over Nadella's D communications grade from six months ago.

Leadership: Executive team

The past six months have seen a lot of changes at the board level. Ballmer left in August, and I didn't detect any crocodile tears from those who stayed. Then in September, two more longtime board members — Dave Marquardt, general partner at August Capital, and Dina Dublon, ex-CEO of JPMorgan Chase — announced their retirement, effective December 2014. They were replaced on Oct. 1 by Teri List-Stoll, CFO of Kraft Foods Group, and Charles W. Scharf, CEO of Visa.


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