What Does New CEO for Microsoft Mean for Hardware?

In the end, Microsoft couldn’t pull the trigger. In Seattle, outside just wasn’t “in.”

The world’s largest software developer today named Satya Nadella, head of the the company’s Server and Tools unit, as its new chief executive. The 46-year-old Nadella becomes just the third person to lead Microsoft, one of the most successful and wealthiest companies ever.

Thus ends one of the longest mating calls since Prince Charles’. Microsoft was reported to have danced with a bevy of blue chip candidates, including Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally, Qualcomm COO Steve Mullenkopf, and Oracle exec (and former HP head) Mark Hurd, among others.

So when John Thompson, Microsoft’s new chairman, says, “Satya is clearly the best person to lead Microsoft,” one wonders why it took so long for them to recognize it. Perhaps they had to go through the rituals before realizing the prettiest date was the one they already live with.

In opting for Nadella, Microsoft eschewed calls to go outside for an executive who might shake up its culture or sell of pieces to boost its share price. Like Intel, it chose continuity and engineering prowess over salesmanship and the flavor of the day.

My take is Microsoft’s culture isn’t the problem; it’s been the top management’s inability to establish the proper hierarchy to allow the brilliance of the company’s thousands of engineers to come through. Time and again, Microsoft has had great ideas on the drawing board, but been beaten to market by competitors that simply execute much faster (read: Apple). Under Nadella, that will have to change.

Clearly Nadella understands how hardware can drive software purchases. As head of Microsoft’s Server and Tools business, he led a $19 billion, 10,000-employee entity that is front and center in the world of cloud computing. As he told Venture Beat in an interview last May, “We broadly as a company are moving from a software company to a devices and services company, and that’s really the transformation, both in terms of technology and delivery – as well as business model. What I do, what our division does is very central to this.”

Given his knowledge of the hardware supply chain, we are eager to see whether Nadella sees value in pulling manufacturing in-house. Such a move could demonstrably alter the EMS landscape for years to come, not because Microsoft is a dominant customer of any of the major contract assemblers — Flextronics builds the Xbox, but none of the Top Tier EMS firms counts Microsoft at a 10% or more client — but because OEMs have a herd mentality and if it works for Microsoft, they will likely follow.

Thanks to the roughly $100 billion in cash Microsoft has on hand, Nadella will have the resources to get wherever he wants to go, and, with Steve Ballmer retiring and Bill Gates stepping down as chairman, he will have full authority to make the tough decisions without the specter of the founders looming over his shoulder. Those two decisions — cofounder Paul Allen stepped aside years ago and is now seen rocking out at Super Bowl parties for the Seattle Seahawks, which he owns — should not be downplayed, as Nadella will not only need the financial backing but the unmitigated authority to make Microsoft as successful in next three decades as it was in the last three.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He is also vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversees all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 20 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow