Microsoft's new CEO: An insider and a 'cloud' man
Satya Nadella, a Microsoft 22-year veteran who headed the software giant's Cloud and Enterprise group, has taken the helm as chief executive officer, in a move by the company that reveals a lot about its strategy moving ahead.
While several analysts told CNBC last week that the choice of Nadella, 46, makes strategic sense, it also would be considered a safe bet. Nadella has been leading Microsoft's cloud division, and it would be a clear signal that enterprise software is, and will continue to be, the focus of Microsoft's strategy.
Re/Code's Kara Swisher first reported that Microsoft was closely considering Nadella as CEO. Microsoft offered no comment on the report at that time. Microsoft's search committee worked hard for six months to find a new CEO to succeed Steve Ballmer.
"The Cloud is the epicenter of Microsoft's future success. They're really going for the golden jewel within the enterprise. More and more, spending is going toward the cloud. For Microsoft to be a very relevant player, they need to have success in the cloud, which speaks to why Mr. Nadella is front and center as the potential CEO," Dan Ives, vice president at FBR Capital Markets, told CNBC last week.
(Read more: Microsoft tapsNadella as CEO; Gates era ends)
It wouldn't be going out on a limb to say Nadella is a Bill Gates/Ballmer disciple. The Hyderabad, India-born Nadella has background in electrical engineering and computer science, and if there is one thing he's very familiar with, it's how business is conducted at Microsoft.
Some analysts, however, have said that Nadella may be too much of a Microsoft insider. Some analysts were hoping for an outsider to invigorate Microsoft's leadership with new energy and gravitas.
"At the end of the day, the optimism around Microsoft is that you could get a fresh perspective, an outsider, someone who's willing to make tough decisions with the enterprise and consumer business. Do you spinoff Xbox? Now that they're going with an insider, it looks like that's off the table," Ives said.
(Read more: Microsoft earnings easily beat Street expectations)
While Nadella knows the cloud and the ways Microsoft works, he has no experience as a CEO. And this isn't just any company, Microsoft's market cap is nearly $313 billion, third in the tech sector behind Google's $396 billion, and Apple's $446 billion.
"I think for Satya not having been a CEO and stepping in to what will soon be a 130,000-person company, he's going to be a work in progress probably for awhile, kind of ramping up," said Rick Sherlund, head of U.S. technology equity research at Nomura Securities. "There's so much for him to accomplish strategically and operationally."
Sherlund added: "I think they wanted someone that has a good technical background and will be there for the next 10 years, but it's not quite the immediate gratification you get if you were to bring in someone like Alan Mulally who's used to running a very big company that's gone through a turnaround."
"He's done a great job on the cloud," Ives added. "That's definitely his best characteristic and ultimately why he got the job, but with that said, he's still a core Redmond insider, and is he going to be the guy who's going to make strategic moves that some investors hope for? I don't believe so. I think there's some optimism that now has faded with the insider pick."
Sherlund also said a Nadella-led Microsoft is likely to come with a very different board of directors. The company announced Tuesday that John Thompson will be elevated to chairman, succeeding Gates, and that Gates will remain a technology advisor to the company.
Currently, Microsoft's board has several people who aren't from the technology sector.
(Read more: What to expect from Apple, Microsoft and Facebook)
"He's going to need help, and the board is going to have to be persistent," Sherlund said last week. "I think this board, in particular, probably is going need some help and will need to bring in some tech people onto the board as well."
And while Sherlund said he has some reservations about Nadella, he's glad Microsoft is finally taking some action.
"Steve Ballmer's been the CEO for the past 10 years and there's been a tremendous destruction of shareholder value over that period. Bill Gates has been the chairman of the board over that time, and this board hasn't done much to enhance shareholder value, so I think that there's a need for change at the board level, as well as changes at the management of the company," Sherlund said.
Ives said he wants to see change at Microsoft and feels by elevating Nadella and Thompson, Gates and Ballmer are setting their guys up for the future.
"With Satya heading Microsoft, you feel like Gates feels like he's leaving the house in good hands, and I think you could give away the keys at this point knowing that there's a core Redmond insider taking over, and it's obviously someone that has his blessing," Ives said. "But with that said, losing Bill Gates is still a historic change. ... I think investors would be really focused on ... the next 12 to 18 months down the road."
—By CNBC's Mark Berniker and Josh Lipton.
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