In case you haven't heard the news, it's official: Steve Balmer is out! Satya Nadella is in as the new CEO of Microsoft.
If not for all the news coverage, I'm not convinced anyone would even notice. At first glance, it is hard to tell what has changed besides the round of musical chairs played by C-level execs. Never mind the titles. Before the announcement, the key players at Microsoft were Steve Balmer, Bill Gates, Satya Nadella, and John Thompson. The new lineup of decision makers at Microsoft will be Steve Balmer, Bill Gates, Satya Nadella, and John Thompson. It is like a baseball team that decides not to acquire new talent when they are in a slump. They just change the order of the batting lineup.
If you are hoping that Nadella will prove to be a maverick and shake things up, your hope is poorly invested. Nadella is a 20 + year veteran who is as corporate insider as it gets. Late last year, he made it clear in an interview that he was in lockstep with the plans of Balmer and the rest of the leadership. Nadella is a company man. Expect no changes to the roadmap laid out by Steve Balmer. Nadella will by more of the same, and full speed ahead.
Balmer's reign was weird enough with the former CEO remaining as chairman of the board, and actively involved with key decisions. Balmer could never stop looking over his shoulder. Now, Nadella takes over, but the previous CEO is still there, still on the board. And the CEO before that is still there, still on the board. Nadella will have former CEOs looking over both his shoulders. Worse, Bill Gates is partially coming out of retirement to take a more active role in products. He will be actively advising Nadella. Even if Nadella wanted to, he will have no chance to reverse course set by his former bosses, who are technically, still his bosses.
It gets worse. Satya Nadella is not the one Microsoft wanted to hire, regardless of the BS statement of solidarity they made. If Satya was the first and unanimous choice, He would have been named CEO last year. They wouldn't have needed a search committee for more than window dressing. Microsoft's first and unanimous choice was the CEO of another company who didn't seem to have any interest in the job.
Let's be clear. For most of this CEO search, the front-runner was a candidate from outside the company that didn't even want the job. Once he publicly and officially declined the offer, Microsoft was left with the internal candidates they had already rejected. Satya was not the first choice. He was the best of the choices they had already rejected. They simply didn't have anyone else.
As the Chairman of the board, John Thompson will be keeping a close eye on Nadella. Bill Gates will be in an even better position to protect his Windows empire. And Steve Balmer will make sure his last round of initiatives go through. Same roster, same strategies: literally, nothing has changed except the titles. Since their choice of CEO pretty much guarantees that nothing will change, it makes me wonder why they bothered to demote Balmer in the first place. Not only does Microsoft still need a new CEO, they are in desperate need of a whole new Board of Directors.