The making of a Microsoft CEO: Layoffs and lip service

Satya Nadella steps up his game with textbook MBA moves and massive layoffs, but the benefit to Microsoft remains to be seen

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There's SQL Server, but that's a growing multi-billion-dollar business today and it's another huge part of your cloud service and hybrid cloud mantra, so fingers off. Visual Studio is the only way you can get developers to implement this stuff, and MSL is the only way they can learn how -- no big changes there. Xbox is making bank and you've gone and tied Phone inextricably to Windows, so backing out of either doesn't make much sense. What's left?

One step forward, two steps back

Oh yeah, cut employees while expecting increased "innovation" and faster release cycles. Then throw an inscrutable monkey wrench into the "contingent staff" machine to make moving forward that much harder. In case you can't translate, "contingent staff" refers to consulting and other outside vendor companies that do much of the actual work at Microsoft, especially around marketing and customer relations, along with some engineering. That's because under Bonnie Ballmer, Microsoft went from a tech-talented marketing and sales culture to an MBA marketing and sales culture -- and I mean pure MBA.

If you've had to sit through as many mano-a-product manager briefings as I have, you'll have noticed a significant shift in their level of knowledge over the years. From 1995 to 2005, if you ask a deep question, the product reps -- who, for the most part, weren't MBAs -- waded in and discussed the issue in detail. Set it up, tear it down, operate whatever it was, they did it all.

Ask an even slightly complex question after 2005 or, God forbid, ask them to use whatever it is they're pitching, and the product rep grows wide-eyed because that isn't covered in the script issued by the consultant. Or if it is, the rep won't bother to read that far on the plane because, apparently, a Colgate MBA confers the ability to wing anything. Caught flat-footed, the rep gets flustered, tries a flat joke, and stammers something about having to look into that and get right back to you. With reps like that doing marketing, PR, and sales, you bet your bootie they need outside consultants to actually "do" while the Microsoftees cover what MBAs are good at: manage.

But now Satya's made it difficult for consulting companies to keep working with Microsoft, and it's inscrutable both why and how. According to the weird memo, every contingent staffer loses building and network access after 18 months and has to take a six-month break ... but only from access. They can keep working for Microsoft during those six months, but can't get to any of the resources they need to do that work.


I've read the memo half a dozen times and I still don't see how that plan adds any value. Supposedly it's about protecting intellectual property, which I assume means leaks, but since I've never gotten a scoop from one of Microsoft's consultants, only its partners and internal employees, that's bogus. I can't fathom what the real reason might be, except that Nadella wants to emphasize his "because I said so" prerogative.

The sound and the fury

Overall, this whole matter wasn't terribly meaningful, and I remain -- surprise, surprise -- entirely unimpressed. Sure, cutting 18,000 people is steep, but it's over six months and most are coming out of Nokia, which those folks had to have seen coming. The rest are worldwide sales and marketing, which means Microsoft will have a harder time talking to customers. What else is new?

I'm not worried about most of those people since many are stock millionaires from the old days, and Amazon and Google will snap up the rest as cafeteria and daycare workers or subjects of "Don't let this happen to you" seminars. Two weird and underperforming divisions were shut down, and a series of annoyingly long memos were leaked that had little or no real information, direction, or content but had all the strong adjectives and buzzwords to make the CEO look like he knows what he's doing without actually saying what he's doing.  

Congrats, Satya. You're far more boring than Steve, and after almost six months, you still haven't done anything tangible or even provided evidence of a pulse -- exactly the CEO that Microsoft needs.

This article, "The making of a Microsoft CEO: Layoffs and lip service," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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