No doubt you've read and/or heard several of the thousands of analyses of Satya Nadella's appointment as the new CEO of Microsoft, replacing Steve Ballmer, and John Thompson's ascension to chairman of the board, replacing Bill Gates. You've seen Microsoft PR guy Frank Shaw's "Meet the CEO" page (scroll to the end to see Nadella in a hoodie) and read Nadella's email to the masses, as well as Ballmer's passing of the baton. You may even have slogged through Shaw's videos on the CEO page -- but if not, head over to YouTube (yes, YouTube!) and take a gander at Nadella's first-day-as-CEO interview (rating: 7.0/10); Gates' "very excited" video, which lists Gates' new title, chief software arch... er, founder and technology adviser (rating 6.5); Ballmer's "I love this company" rhapsodizing (8.1.1); and Thompson's "Satya was our first and unanimous choice" pronouncement (6.0).
Now that the presentations and celebrations (and prognostications!) are over, we've moved into morning-after mode. I, for one, am a bit concerned.
Understand that I think the world of Nadella -- he's widely respected among Microsoft developers, and that's a huge part of the employee motivation problem solved. But I have reservations about him as CEO, as I noted last week. Even if you're a flag-waving Nadella/Thompson fan, it must give you pause to realize that just three years ago, Nadella was in charge of Bing, and two years ago, ex-IBMer/ex-Symantec CEO Thompson wasn't even on the Microsoft board. That's a whole lotta change in a very short amount of time.
There's been a bit of a brouhaha in the press about Gates "stepping up" to his new position and relinquishing the board chairmanship. I don't think it's a question of Gates being pushed, nor do I think it's a case of Gates jumping. I believe Gates has much more important things on his mind -- malaria, foreign aid, HIV, water, sanitation, and global health and development -- and he's been far removed from Microsoft for almost a decade. I think Gates' new position is an expedient solution to several problems.
Had Gates remained as chairman, he would've become the target for all of those railing against the "old" Microsoft -- new ValueAct board member Mason Morfit most certainly included. While Gates may or may not be the source of the "old" problems, he would've taken flak for them -- personally. He doesn't need that, and the board doesn't need the distraction.
By bringing in a new chairman -- even though Gates and Ballmer remain on the board -- there's a new delineation between Young Turks and Old Billionaires that may lead to more progress with less friction. Smart move.
Why is Gates being billed as Nadella's new mentor? The person who's most qualified to help Nadella learn his way through the corridors is, of course, Ballmer, who's been in charge for almost two decades. But Ballmer's name evokes bad karma, and everyone at the top knows it. Would Nadella/Thompson publicly enshrine Ballmer as technology adviser, business adviser, or steady old hand? Of course not. That's the kiss of death. Rightly or wrongly, Ballmer's a euphemism for all that's gone wrong at Microsoft.