As Microsoft’s search for a new CEO drags on, the big question is where the company should go in the next 20 years and who is best suited to take it there.
For all of Steve Ballmer’s business acumen, he’s never had the same grasp on the importance of design as someone like Steve Jobs. One Gartner analyst believes the key to Microsoft’s future is not the enterprise and cloud technologies Ballmer made into a core piece of Microsoft’s business, but a design-thinking model building innovative, consumer-driven user experiences.
The next leaders will need to balance that reinvention back to the consumer-driven company Microsoft began as while still delivering enterprise capabilities. Hiring the combination of Stephen Elop as CEO and Satya Nadella as CTO would be an opportunity to realize that vision, said the analyst.
Now that Ford CEO Alan Mulally has officially taken his name out of the running, three candidates have been getting the most attention: Kevin Turner, Elop and Nadella. According to the analyst, an outside hire like Mulally wouldn’t have had a strong enough understanding of Microsoft’s organization and core business capabilities to shift the culture.
Turner is a business mind. He spent more than 20 years working his way up the Walmart corporate structure from cashier all the way to CEO of its subsidiary, Sam’s Club. He’s an extension of Ballmer’s business mindset, who as CEO would move Microsoft’s business forward with a big enterprise focus, yet with less of a capacity for imagination and design-centric thinking.
The analyst sees Nadella and Elop as better candidates, each solving one half of the CEO puzzle. Elop is the business mind, with design experience and some of that mindset coming from his time at Nokia. He’s not as deep a technologist though, and that’s where Nadella comes in.
“Satya Nadella is the one in the mix that brings the most deep technical experience as well as broad market vision to the table,” the analyst said. “If somebody were going to head Microsoft that would be a new Bill Gates or Steve Jobs type of person, it would be Satya Nadella.”
Nadella has had success in multiple Microsoft divisions, starting in research and development for the Online Services Division, then as president of Microsoft’s Servers and Tools business, and now as the executive vice president of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group. Together, Elop and Nadella create an inverse leadership dynamic that mirrors Microsoft’s original leaders: Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.
“If I were on the board, I’d hire Stephen Elop to be the CEO and Satya Nadella would be named the CTO of Microsoft,” the analyst said. “It would be like the Gates and Ballmer era, the difference being that Gates was the technology guy and Steve was the business guy, it flips around. Elop would be the business guy running things and Satya is the technology visionary making sure their products are driving the market. Those two guys partnered together in a rich way would really give Microsoft an opportunity.”