This Day On The Street
Continue to site
ADVERTISEMENT
This account is pending registration confirmation. Please click on the link within the confirmation email previously sent you to complete registration.
Need a new registration confirmation email? Click here

New Microsoft CEO's Collegial Style Sparks Hope

By Ryan Nakashima

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It was a fleeting moment once the camera had gone off, but some say it's indicative of the leadership style Satya Nadella brings to his new job as CEO of Microsoft (MSFT)

Nadella's impromptu town hall webcast had interrupted business meetings among Microsoft employees and outside partners at the company's Executive Briefing Center in Redmond, Wash. Hours earlier, he had been named only the third leader in company history. When the brief webcast was over, he didn't want to hog the limelight.

"If you have to get back to [a meeting] because it's more interesting or important, please ...," Nadella said as the town hall transitioned into a light reception.

Must Read: Why Did Apple Buy Back $14B of Its Own Stock?

The gesture is just one example of Nadella's calming, collegial style, which stands in stark contrast to the blustery, passionate, rally-the-troops approach employed by Microsoft's previous CEO, Steve Ballmer.

Experts on leadership say the change in tone is a necessary cultural shift for a mature company transitioning into new businesses while letting go of past successes and missed opportunities.

"It's very symbolic," said Suresh Kotha, a professor at the University of Washington's Foster School of Business in Seattle. "I think that sends a very strong message, that work is important."

"He's saying 'I'm here to help you, I'm humble, I'm willing to listen,' " Kotha said. "Symbolically, I think it's very important to see he's separating himself from Steve Ballmer."

Ballmer is known for his larger-than-life displays of emotion. At his farewell address to Microsoft employees in September, he high-fived and hugged audience members, pumped his fists in the air, and even shed tears as the popular 1987 song "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" played on the sound system. In a video of the event widely viewed on YouTube, he screams: "You work for the greatest company in the world!"

Observers still remember Ballmer's intense competitiveness. At a 2009 company meeting at Seattle's Safeco field, he pretended to stomp on an iPhone he snatched from a Microsoft employee. During a public Q&A in 2012, he slammed Google's (GOOG - Get Report) Android mobile operating system as "wild" and "uncontrolled."

Compare that to Nadella's comments at a financial analysts' meeting in September, where he described how Microsoft's mobile device management software has to handle devices that run on Apple's (AAPL) iOS, Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows equally: "Enterprises are heterogeneous, and we recognized that," he said.

Richard Metheny, a management coach for executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, latched on to comments Nadella made in introducing himself as CEO, about how he buys more books and signs up for more online courses than he could possibly finish.

"It means he's open to ideas, open to others," Metheny said. "Perhaps he'll have the ability to get Microsoft to loosen up a little and focus on innovation rather than be accused of bringing in a solution that brings in money immediately."

One problem Microsoft faces is its legacy of competing internal fiefdoms, said Douglas McKenna, a management consultant who advised Microsoft from 1985 to 1993 and worked at the company from 1993 through 2001.

Founder Bill Gates and Ballmer believed the clash of ideas resulted in the best rising above the rest, McKenna said. That style of management, coupled with a so-called stack ranking system that graded employees on a bell curve, resulted in a company full of "competitive people who learned that climbing over each other and battling across divisions is the way to get ahead," McKenna said.

Breaking down those barriers will be important for Microsoft at a time when software and services are expected to work across many platforms and devices, McKenna said. It's a task that could benefit from Nadella's collaborative approach.

"You have to have people who are willing to release their convictions and try something new," McKenna said.

The company has already begun the shift -- with a reorganization launched in July that Ballmer called "One Microsoft." And in November, the company eliminated the bell-curve performance review system that rewarded workers for outdoing their peers. It was an acknowledgement that the tactics that helped Microsoft grow into one of the world's most dominant software companies aren't working anymore.

What's often required of companies that have hit their peak is a leader who is analytical -- rather than driving and expressive, as Ballmer was -- especially when trends point downward, said William Klepper, a professor of management at Columbia Business School.

Microsoft's stock price peaked in 1999, and the wave of success the company rode on the back of its Windows operating system for personal computers is ending, he said.

"What they need to do is start their 'second wave' thinking," Klepper said. "That takes patience, due diligence and a deep dive to do that kind of thing. That is very much in the style of both Nadella and Gates."

Nadella has already indicated that innovation will be key for Microsoft, and, in another collaborative turn, he asked Gates to increase his time at the company to help plot future strategy, to which Gates agreed. Nadella has said repeatedly since being named CEO that the technology industry "doesn't respect tradition."

And he has been lauded by many people -- including Ballmer -- for having the ability to pick a strategy that makes sense.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD) CEO Jerry Kennelly, who persuaded Nadella to join his computer networking company's board last March, credits Nadella with preventing the company from "taking a wrong turn." As management was considering moving in a new direction, Nadella delivered hard-edged advice "in a way that is constructive and collaborative," Kennelly said.

"At the end of the day, technology is all about having the right product at the right time in the right market," Kennelly said. "The keys to the kingdom are your product strategy and your market strategy, and that is where Satya has been helpful for us."

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Check Out Our Best Services for Investors

Action Alerts PLUS

Portfolio Manager Jim Cramer and Director of Research Jack Mohr reveal their investment tactics while giving advanced notice before every trade.

Product Features:
  • $2.5+ million portfolio
  • Large-cap and dividend focus
  • Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
Quant Ratings

Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.

Product Features:
  • Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
  • Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
  • A custom stock screener
Stocks Under $10

David Peltier uncovers low dollar stocks with serious upside potential that are flying under Wall Street's radar.

Product Features:
  • Model portfolio
  • Stocks trading below $10
  • Intraday trade alerts
14-Days Free
Only $9.95
14-Days Free
Dividend Stock Advisor

David Peltier identifies the best of breed dividend stocks that will pay a reliable AND significant income stream.

Product Features:
  • Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
  • Updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
Trifecta Stocks

Every recommendation goes through 3 layers of intense scrutiny—quantitative, fundamental and technical analysis—to maximize profit potential and minimize risk.

Product Features:
  • Model Portfolio
  • Intra Day Trade alerts
  • Access to Quant Ratings
Options Profits

Our options trading pros provide over 100 monthly option trading ideas and strategies to help you become a well-seasoned trader.

Product Features:
  • Actionable options commentary and news
  • Real-time trading community
SYM TRADE IT LAST %CHG
MFST $0.01 7.69%
GOOG $632.68 0.12%
AAPL $122.27 -0.59%
FB $94.86 -2.20%
TSLA $262.82 -0.38%

Markets

Chart of I:DJI
DOW 17,753.10 +1.71 0.01%
S&P 500 2,108.23 -0.34 -0.02%
NASDAQ 5,129.9750 +18.2420 0.36%

Free Reports

Top Rated Stocks Top Rated Funds Top Rated ETFs