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LinkedIn CEO: Why the Microsoft deal won't be a disaster

It's a new day for Microsoft.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Linkedin CEO Jeff Weiner.
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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Linkedin CEO Jeff Weiner.

Microsoft has, erm, a checkered history with acquisitions.

It bought Nokia for $7.2 billion in 2014, then had a $7.6 billion write down on that business a year later. It bought Yammer for $1 billion, but failed to develop the enterprise messaging application, and now Slack is poised to own the enterprise chat space. It paid $6 billion for ad tech company aQuantive, then wrote that down.

So, Microsoft's decision to pay $26.2 billion for LinkedIn has a few people raising their eyebrows thinking Microsoft is about to make another massive mistake.

And those people could be right! This could be yet another big mess.

However, there's reason to believe this time is going to be different. And that reason is Satya Nadella, Microsoft's relatively new CEO.

All of the previous deals that failed were executed by Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's former CEO who had a different view of the world. Ballmer was more of a top-down, autocratic leader, whereas Nadella has embraced partnerships and has taken a more open approach to Microsoft's business.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner seems to be aware that people would wonder about whether or not Microsoft will do a good job running the professional social media site. To that end, in a lettter to employees he said:

When Satya first proposed the idea of acquiring LinkedIn, he said it was absolutely essential that we had alignment on two things: Purpose and structure. On the former, it didn't take long before the two of us realized we had virtually identical mission statements. For LinkedIn, it was to connect the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful, and for Microsoft it was to empower every individual and organization in the world to achieve more. Essentially, we're both trying to do the same thing but coming at it from two different places: For LinkedIn, it's the professional network, and for Microsoft, the professional cloud. ...

Turning from purpose, we focused our attention on potential structure. I had no idea what Satya was going to propose, but knew how difficult acquisition integrations could be if not established the right way from the start.

Long story short, Satya had me at "independence." In other words, his vision was to operate LinkedIn as a fully independent entity within Microsoft, a model used with great success by companies like YouTube, Instagram and WhatsApp. I would remain as CEO and report directly to him instead of a board. Together, along with Reid [Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn], Bill Gates, my former colleague Qi Lu, and new partner Scott Guthrie, we would partner on how best to leverage this extraordinary combination of assets while pursuing a shared mission. This, we both agreed, might not only be a structure that could work, it would be one in which both companies could thrive.

In other words, Weiner believes LinkedIn will be given room to operate freely, which he thinks means LinkedIn will thrive, not wither at Microsoft.