He wears jeans with a T-shirt and suit coat. Sometimes he wears a hoodie like Mark Zuckerberg. He is a decade younger than his predecessor Steve Ballmer. He grew up in India, but has spent more than half his life in the US. He likes cricket and poetry. He has worked at Microsoft for 22 years, most recently as head of the company's $20 billion cloud and enterprise group. This is Satya Nadella, Microsoft's new CEO.
As he settles into his new role, the question is what will Nadella do different from his predecessor to make Microsoft a more valued company. How will he alter the plans already put in place by Ballmer and the board of directors?
Nadella trained at the feet of Ballmer and Bill Gates. He is steeped in the Microsoft culture, and gradually rose to the top, with stints in key divisions, including as head of R&D for the Online Services Division and as vice president of the Microsoft Business Division. Nadella has also been supportive of Ballmer's July 2013 reorganization of the company, which the former CEO described as, "one strategy, united together, with great communication, decisiveness and positive energy is the only way to fly."
What's clear is that Nadella is a loyal insider, who has been entrusted by the Ballmer and Gates, Microsoft's two largest shareholders, to address what they failed to anticipate -- the mobile and cloud computing revolution.
"Our industry does not respect tradition -- it only respects innovation. This is a critical time for the industry and for Microsoft. Make no mistake, we are headed for greater places -- as technology evolves and we evolve with and ahead of it. Our job is to ensure that Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world," Nadella said in his letter to employees.
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Unlike an outsider, Nadella knows precisely Microsoft's strengths and weaknesses, and has spent the last several years developing the company's cloud-based solutions. His temperament and background dictate a different management style than Ballmer's. Whereas Ballmer was the consummate cheerleader and crafty salesman, Nadella is more of technologist and not prone to bombast. While he is more in the techie Bill Gates mold, he is less fearsome, or more approachable, than the former CEO and chairman.
In fact, Nadella will be aided in his duties by Gates, who "will devote more time to the company, supporting Nadella in shaping technology and product direction," the company said in a press release. It's not clear whether this means Gates will be more deeply involved in strategic decisions about products and business direction or it was meant to calm Wall Street nerves as an untested CEO begins his tenure.
In his letter to the troops, Nadella also laid out his vision of Microsoft's mission:
As we look forward, we must zero in on what Microsoft can uniquely contribute to the world. The opportunity ahead will require us to reimagine a lot of what we have done in the past for a mobile and cloud-first world, and do new things.
We are the only ones who can harness the power of software and deliver it through devices and services that truly empower every individual and every organization. We are the only company with history and continued focus in building platforms and ecosystems that create broad opportunity.
The "we are the only ones" intonations and software-devices-services is very much in line with what Ballmer has said.
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He closed his letter to employees with an appeal to a higher calling: "I truly believe that each of us must find meaning in our work. The best work happens when you know that it's not just work, but something that will improve other people's lives. This is the opportunity that drives each of us at this company."
That sounds like Apple's Tim Cook.
In other words, at this point Nadella is saying all the right things with the expected hyperbole that CEOs utter when they are promoting their cause and rallying the troops with a call to action. Now comes the hard part -- reassessing the Ballmer plan and the Microsoft tradition, and getting the board, Bill Gates, and more than 100,000 employees to trust his reimagining of Microsoft and to follow his lead.