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

If you assign colors to Microsoft CEOs, I suppose Bill Gates would be green, which I'm hoping has something to do with confidence and competence. Then there's Steve Ballmer, who'd look good in purple, but all I know about that color is it made Oprah famous and Prince cry. I guess we make him red because it has some relation to volatility.

Finally, we get to Satya Nadella. Based on last week I'm going to have to designate him the lackluster beige that results from the mix of MBA schooling and long years of big, corporate culture.

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So far, Nadella is following the business school new boss playbook exactly:

  1. Announce your intention to stay the supposedly successful course of your predecessor while hinting the guy was an underperforming moron who thinks AA meetings are really open mic nights for amateur comedians.
  2. When describing the future direction you intend to take, use 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. Be sure to refer to your underlings as a big happy family. Maybe add a GIF of a smiling teddy bear with the company logo.
  3. Wait an appropriate amount of time (at least three months) and announce what sound like massive changes to the supposedly successful course of your predecessor but make sure to describe those changes in hugely broad terms that could mean anything. Keep referring to your underlings as a big, happy family. Definitely add the teddy bear. Maybe have it hug a kitten.
  4. Use more long-winded and vague language to describe this new course in "more detail" without committing to anything in case sudden reversals are required and you need to pick a quick patsy or two to take the fall. Keep several teddy bears in your desk drawer to hand out as post-firing mementos.
  5. Wait two more months, then screw over as many members of your big, happy family as possible in order to establish yourself as a fearsome, decisive leader and to look like you've cut spending because that'll kick off a short-term stock increase at the end of the fiscal year and ensure your juicy performance bonus.

Nice work -- right on target, to boot.

X gets the ax at Microsoft

I get dumping the Xbox entertainment division. Microsoft is having enough trouble competing in other consumer spaces like phones, phablets, and search engines, so there's no reason to try and compete with Netflix and Roku right now. Fix what you have, then see if you can win somewhere new. It's smart and safe, if a tad obvious and gutless.

I get dumping the Android-based Nokia X, too. Whatever silver-tongued devil got that thing this far should either be promoted for his or her gift of gab -- or be forced to shave Kevin Turner's back. I suspect the latter. But the supersexy multicarrier next-gen Windows Phone, code-named McLaren and due in the fall, also got dropped. I'm not sure what's good about freezing your product line while every other mobile phone maker is throwing out shiny new rectangles quicker than a 10-year-old Pez dispenser. But what do I know?

I'm scratching my head at the rest of this power play. A "cloud-first and mobile-first company"? A "productivity and platform company for the mobile and cloud world"? What does that even mean? When you think about it, he can't make any changes without taking personal responsibility, and you know that's not going to happen. That kind of unequivocal John Wayne move makes the average MBA stain his Underoos and break out in hives. And frankly, what are his options?

If Satya messes with multi-billion-dollar Windows, the board will have him cast into a lake of fire. That has to stay a cash cow. And the real reason Windows remains a cash cow is because of Office, so you can't mess with that either, not to mention that it's most of your so-called cloud services play. Windows Azure is obviously immune, and since Windows Server is the other half of that foggy hybrid cloud/cloud OS message you won't shut up about, that's off limits, too.

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