Microsoft's Satya Nadella Seen as Smart, Humble CEO Candidate

NEWS ANALYSIS: Satya Nadella is "humble," articulate, engaging and warm. The 22-year veteran of Microsoft may also be its third CEO.

Satya Nadella

Microsoft's Satya Nadella, during a November fireside chat at alma mater University of Chicago, answered a question about career planning by reportedly telling the audience: "We must ask ourselves, do I feel stretched? A little overwhelmed? If the answers are no, then we are doing something wrong."

It's likely Nadella will soon get the opportunity to stretch himself now that he has been tapped to replace Steve Ballmer as the next CEO of Microsoft. Microsoft's board is expected to vote over the weekend—likely Sunday, Kara Swisher reported on re/code Jan. 31 (though not during the Super Bowl, in which Microsoft's hometown team is competing).

Not that Nadella's current position isn't challenging.

"Satya Nadella … has perhaps one of the most challenging jobs at Microsoft, [as] he's merely in charge of competing with Google and runs our search business," Microsoft chairman, founder and former CEO Bill Gates said during a 2008 address at the University of Chicago, offering an example of the kind of talent the school puts out.

Nadella joined Microsoft in 1992, and in 2011 was promoted from his role leading the engineering efforts in Microsoft's Online Services Division, which included overseeing the technical strategy for the company's considerable cloud infrastructure, to senior vice president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business.

"In deciding who should take the business forward, we wanted someone with the right mix of leadership, vision and hard-core engineering chops," Ballmer told the employees in a companywide email, making the 2011 announcement. "We wanted someone who could define the future of business and computing and further expand our ability to bring the cloud to business customers and developers in game-changing ways."

Nadella wound up leading Microsoft's evolution from offering client-server software to cloud services for every type of Microsoft customer and was later named executive vice president of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise group. Nadella's Microsoft bio says he and his team deliver "Cloud OS."

During Microsoft's fiscal 2014 second quarter, which it announced Jan. 23, its commercial cloud services revenue grew more than 100 percent year over year.

The Third Face of Microsoft?

Nadella, who's in his mid-40s, is known to be poised and warmly engaging. He would present a new face for Microsoft. (Search for the terms "Ballmer AND bombast" and you get 12 million plus results.) He's also as articulate speaking about a product as he is offering industry analysis. Fielding questions from tech insider Om Malik at the LeWeb'13 Conference in Paris in December, Nadella had as much charisma and self-assuredness that any company could hope for in a CEO.

"He's a very bright guy and well-spoken, and I think he would probably do very well," Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told eWEEK.

"Microsoft, for a long time, has been bifurcated between the consumer side and business-centric side," King added. "The cloud, as a platform and as a vision, is something that … could commoditize both of those groups. … Giving the guy who's been responsible for successfully driving the cloud strategy for the last few years the ability to assert his vision seems like a good thing to do."

Analyst Jack Gold, with J. Gold Associates, says that appointing the person who oversees enterprise and cloud as CEO would be the board's way of indicating that Microsoft's future resides in those areas.

Additionally, choosing an insider "indicates that they believe only an insider who understands the politics and ramifications of change within the structure of the organization can right the ship," said Gold. "This may or may not be the case, but as an insider, you are more likely to know where the bodies are buried and who the business winners and losers may be."

Geoffrey Colon, a social media influencer at Microsoft, took to Twitter Jan. 31 to back Nadella and make clear that in addition to his business and technical acumen and his ability to work a room, Nadella possess another key leadership trait.

"Solid choice," Colon wrote. "His humility is a good quality for a modern leader of a dynamic co."

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