Nadella Takes the CEO Reins, Says Little, but Nails the Buzzwords

Microsoft’s new CEO spent the day introducing himself as an always-learning person who understands well the need to innovate—and quickly.

Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella, on his first day as CEO of Microsoft, sat for a 20-minute Webcast interview during which he repeated key themes already introduced in a press statement, a video, on a Web page and in an employee-addressed Feb. 4 email that Microsoft forwarded well beyond its campus.

One theme was Nadella's voracious appetite for learning.

In addition to being a husband, a father and 22-year veteran of Microsoft, Nadella wrote in his email and repeated in his opening comments and elsewhere: "I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things."

A second theme was that Nadella is clear that there can be no resting on Microsoft's laurels.

"Our industry does not respect tradition—it only respects innovation," Nadella said, again in several formats during a day that Microsoft, and likely also Nadella, were determined should go smoothly and suffer no off-the-cuff slip-ups.

He added, "I see a big part of my job as accelerating our ability to bring innovative products to our customers more quickly."

Together, the themes worked to send a singular message: Microsoft has a bright future ahead and will create innovations, and Nadella has the brains, the experience, the curiosity and the personality to successfully guide the company toward that future.

Looking fit and hip—wearing dark blue jeans, a checkered shirt, a black sports coat and flat-armed eyeglasses that might have come from a Warby Parker catalog—Nadella said that the very definition of mobile is changing, that we're living in a "software-powered world," that Microsoft's strategy is about "devices and services" and that Microsoft took "a couple of big bets" in developing the Surface and buying Nokia's handset business.

"Devices are where these experiences come together," Nadella said, when asked why Microsoft should bother with hardware in a software-powered world. "The boundaries of the Surface are definitely not defined by what's running on the Surface."

Overall, Nadella succeeded in giving a very CEO-like interview.

"He didn't really say anything; he just used a whole lot of buzzwords," Jack Gold, principal analyst with J. Gold Associates told eWEEK. "Cloud first. Mobile first. But nothing of real substance. It would have been nice if he really said something to hang his hat on … but in his defense, he's the new CEO, and CEOs don't say much."

Gold added that the choice of Nadella, the man behind Microsoft's cloud and server efforts, as CEO suggests that those areas will be priorities for Microsoft. Nadella will also have to fix Windows 8.

"I don't think he can win on mobile," Gold added, "but I also don't think he needs to. Microsoft makes more money on Android than Windows Phone," with its licenses and more. "Mobile is going to be an uphill battle."

David Mitchell Smith, a Gartner vice president and fellow, calls the pick of Nadella as CEO a good choice.

"A good choice," Smith repeated. "There's no such thing as a perfect choice. He has a lot of potential, he's done a lot of good things at Microsoft, but he's got his work cut out for him."

Plus, as big a deal as Nadella's appointment is Bill Gates' departure from the board and appointment as a technology adviser.

"It's the end of an era," said Smith. "But we need to have an open mind. [Nadella, in his roles] made a lot of changes that were hard to make and decisions that were hard to make, and they worked out."

Because Nadella came up through the Microsoft ranks, he won't be given as long a runway as someone new to the company, Gold added.

"He's got two quarters," he said. "People will cut him a little slack for that long. But he's got to start showing results pretty quickly."

Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter.