This just in: Microsoft employees outside the Redmond Azteca think Satya Nadella would be a pretty good CEO, probably.
Yes, six months after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced his retirement, we might finally have a winner. Bloomberg reported Thursday that Microsoft’s board is preparing to name Nadella, the company’s cloud and enterprise chief, as its next CEO — the third in its history. Re/code called him “the likeliest internal candidate to prevail.”
Seriously, this is a big deal, if it’s true. So who is this guy?
Nadella, a 46-year-old native of Hyderabad, India, is a 22-year veteran of Microsoft. An MBA with computer science and engineering degrees, he has run Microsoft businesses with as much as $19 billion in annual revenue.
Currently he’s in charge of the Microsoft division responsible for developing and running the company’s cloud platform, the infrastructure beneath Microsoft services such as Bing, Xbox Live, Office 365, and Windows Azure.
He’s a respected leader inside the company — smart and thoughtful, if a bit of a wonk at times.
I heard him speak most recently at a small Microsoft event last winter, and I can attest that he is a genuine nerd — able to talk at length and in great detail about the nuances of distributed applications and the provisioning of resources across data centers, not to mention the strides the company has been making to “really enable this people-centric IT.”
He’s also charismatic. I remember one former member of the tech press corps who would openly swoon whenever he spoke at an event.
But does he have the charisma to inspire a 100,000-person company? That’s unclear. Nadella is not a celebrity CEO coming in from another big company. The jump to CEO would be a sizable leap from his current position.
He would be an understated pick — a sharp contrast to Ballmer’s over-the-top enthusiasm and natural ability to rally the troops. At no point in his Microsoft career has Nadella been accused of throwing chairs, at least not publicly.
The selection of an internal candidate also makes radical change less likely. When asked about Microsoft’s future during a talk to an entrepreneurial group last August, for example, Nadella said he has learned a lot from Gates and Ballmer.
“The attitude that comes from Bill and Steve is that we would rather die than be irrelevant,” he said. “We sometimes create trends, we can fall behind on trends, but if you are, at any given point in time, not working on what’s most relevant, and sticking with it, you are going to be irrelevant in the long run.”
Talking about his business philosophy, he said, “You’ve got to come at it with that attitude of both confidence and the humility that you are not on the top of the hill, because the day you get any one of those things wrong — if you don’t have the confidence that you can actually go conquer the hill, or you don’t have the humility to recognize your true position — either one of those things can really be an issue.”
Nadella would have a big hill to climb — leading a $77 billion, 38-year-old company that is facing massive challenges to its traditional Windows PC business, and struggling to be relevant in consumer technology, but still chugging along just fine in enterprise technology.
The fact that Nadella comes from that side of the company, overseeing the cloud and enterprise business, says a lot about where Microsoft’s board sees the company going.
If he’s actually picked, that is. Nothing is official, and Microsoft isn’t commenting, for now.
I could be wrong, but my hunch is that we won’t get the official word until next week. If Microsoft names its next CEO before the Super Bowl, there’s a decent chance no one in Seattle will notice.