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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.

But Nadella's inner circle — the so-called senior leaders — hasn't changed one iota since he originally reshuffled the deck shortly after taking office, with one exception: In November, Lisa Brummel left and Kathleen Hogan took over as executive VP of human resources. I know many current and former 'Softies who hailed the change. I still hear whispers about Eric Rudder (executive vice president of advanced strategy) and Stephen Elop (executive vice president of devices) leaving.

When Bill Gates stepped down as chairman of Microsoft in July, he was supposed to "devote more time to the company, supporting Nadella in shaping technology and product direction." I haven't seen any indication that actually happened, other than a mysterious "personal agent" gig, but it's a nice sentiment.

All in all, Nadella's managed to attract and keep an excellent inner circle. The board's bounced around a bit, but the "activist" fears that several analysts once expressed haven't come to fruition.

For the executives, I give Nadella a grade of B+.

Leadership: Human resources

Human resources under Lisa Brummel continued employee layoffs, with the final tranche of 3,000 employees laid off in October. Layoffs are never easy, but several screw-ups made these even more difficult. Still, Nadella insisted they were needed, and he's probably right.

The contract worker restrictions, which requires contractors to leave after 18 months, also rankle. Microsoft continues to push for more H1-B visas, even as it's become clear that the shortage they purport to solve doesn't exist.

Under Hogan, Microsoft's human resources actions seem to have a more human side to them, although I know many in the trenches would disagree.

Still, I raise Nadella's HR grade from an F to a D.

Technology/product lines: Platform support

Office for iPad has been a big success — 45 million-plus downloads — and Office for Android should be out soon. Touch-first Office for Windows should be out "in the Windows 10 timeframe," likely fall 2015. Skype runs on iOS, Android, and hardware. Microsoft's quickly turning from a Windows-first company to a "let's get it done" company, and that bodes well for the future.

Nadella's platform support grade: A.

Technology/product lines: Enterprise devices

Microsoft finally worked the major kinks out of the Surface Pro 3 this month. The 10th firmware update seems to have solved the big problems.

Unit sales figures are impossible to discern, despite the claimed $1 billion in Surface tablet revenues, but the lack of any other products makes you wonder how well enterprise devices are doing. For example, we haven't even seen a business-viable Lumia smartphone.

Nadella's enterprise devices grade: C—, subject to downgrade if we ever get sales figures for the Surface.


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