Satya Nadella at six months: Grading Microsoft's new CEO

The future emerging for Microsoft under Nadella is a mixed bag of hope and turmoil

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Contrariwise, "reinventing productivity" -- another Nadella catchphrase -- sounds decades-old, overworked, and perennially underdelivered. We've heard it all before -- and the //oneweek hacks Microsoft has launched under Nadella are a long way from real products. The next decade's productivity improvements are going to come, not from rewriting Office, but from a hundred different sources that aren't even on the radar yet. Microsoft will be lucky to invent two or three of them, and buy or copy a dozen more.

I call Nadella's "reinventing productivity" a tactical vision, and give Nadella a gentleman's C.

Finally, Nadella's ability to clearly enunciate his future direction sucks. Whatever happened to straight talk? InfoWorld's Robert X. Cringely nailed it when he said, "When describing the future direction [Nadella intends] to take, [he uses] long-winded and vague language with as many buzzwords as possible to obscure, even obliterate any specific meaning or intention while trying to sound decisive and knowledgeable." Lee Hutchinson wasn't quite so charitable in his decidedly NSFW diatribe in Ars Technica: "Nadella's email drips with that familiar mixture of faux sympathy and non-information that is so typical of carefully managed corporate communication."

It isn't clear if Nadella's jargon-laden missives came from his pen or from those of his handlers at communications firm Waggener Edstrom, but they sound like warmed-over Ballmer-speak, with a liberal sprinkling of corporate BS.

Definitely a D for communication.

People power

Nadella has assembled a strong inner circle, drawing on people who have been around for years: Chris Capossela came back to marketing, Qi Lu (Nadella's former boss) took on applications and services and Scott Guthrie got bumped up to head of cloud and enterprise (Nadella's old turf). Just as important, many good people stayed in their old spots: Kevin Turner as COO, Terry Myerson for operating systems, Amy Hood as CFO, General Counsel Brad Smith, and others.

Execs with no clear mandate departed: Tony Bates, who was a top contender for CEO, and Tami Reller, who used to head marketing and (briefly) Windows. Mark "Scroogled" Penn was shifted to a place where his particular brand of venom won't be as noticeable.

Bill Gates was supposed to be on the Nadella insider team. but predictably, we haven't heard anything out of him. (Frankly, he has more important fish to fry in his philanthropic pursuits -- go Bill!) Ballmer was supposed to be on the sidelines, but as the company's No. 1 stockholder, you can bet that he's had a lot of interaction with Nadella.

Steven Luzco, CEO of Seagate, left the board, and Mason Morfit of Value Act Capital (widely expected to be an activist of some stripe) joined the board, and last week came international wireless heavy John Stanton -- all with remarkably few visible ripples.

All is well on the executive front: Grade A.

No, I didn't mention Stephen Elop, who brought Nokia into Microsoft. He's Ballmer's legacy, not Nadella's. You get to make up your own mind about Lisa Brummel, who's continuing as head of HR (see below).

By contrast, the rank-and-file are taking it in the shorts, and not only in Finland: 18,000 people fired, 12,500 at Nokia, 5,500 in the "old" Microsoft, 1,351 layoffs in the Seattle area. The Mini-Microsoft blog, long a sounding board for disgruntled (ex) employees, sprang back into life. Any way you slice it, the firing process was hamfisted, too slow, and steeped in corporate double-talk that doesn't escape Microsoft's surviving employees.

The day after the bloodletting was announced, Microsoft took a hatchet to its "external staff" -- contractors/second-class citizens who do much of the work around the place. And I certainly haven't heard about a reduction in Microsoft's demand for H-1B visas.

Human resources' grade: F.

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