His profile's been low, but he's been a key player in Redmond for years.
So it’s official: More than five months after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced his intention to retire, he has a successor. Satya Nadella, the company’s executive VP of cloud and enterprise, was on lists of potential Ballmer replacements all along, and as higher-profile possibilities such as Ford’s Alan Mulally fell off the roster, he went from apparent dark horse to leading candidate to the guy.
Here are some key tidbits to mull over as he gets ready to take on what may be the single most challenging gig in the the tech industry.
1. He was born in Hyderabad, India. And moved to the United States after graduating from Manipal University. That an immigrant will run this most American of companies is an inspiring story in itself.
2. He’s a long-time Microsoft insider. Nadella joined the company in 1992 from one-time Silicon Valley icon Sun Microsystems; he’s been a Microsoftie for well over half of the company’s existence.
3. He’s an engineer. Unlike Steve Ballmer, who was an assistant product manager at Procter & Gamble before joining Microsoft in 1980, Nadella started out as a technologist. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Manipal University and a masters in computer science from the University of Wisconsin.
4. But also a business type. In addition to his technology-oriented degrees, he has a masters in business administration from the University of Chicago.
5. He’s been promoted again and again. Among his other high-level positions before he was appointed executive vice president for the cloud and enterprise group last year: president of the server and tools business; senior VP of R&D for the online services division; VP of the business division; senior VP of search, portal and advertising platform group; VP of development for the business solutions group; and general manager of consumer and commerce.
6. He’s currently responsible for a huge, largely invisible part of Microsoft’s business. Among the products Nadella heads up: Windows Azure, Windows Server, SQL Server, System Center and the software-development tools which are Microsoft’s original business, dating all the way back to 1975. Consumers have no reason to pay attention to these areas, but they’re thriving — a big reason why Microsoft just posted robust quarterly results despite the PC industry’s struggles and Windows Phone’s failure, so far, to make much of a dent in Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.
7. He’s played a major role in Microsoft’s transition to the cloud. The company’s very name references the era of software for microcomputers. But Nadella is leading its efforts to be just as good at web-based services as it ever was at PC software — a battle at least as important to the company’s future as anything involving phones or tablets.
8. He does have some consumer background. Though Nadella’s career has skewed towards the business-y side of Microsoft, he’s also worked on some offerings used by folks in their personal lives, such as the Bing search engine.
9. It’s not your imagination — he does have a low profile. Nadella is not exactly a hermit — Quartz’s Leo Mirani interviewed him about Microsoft’s future last December, when Nadella was already known to be a leading CEO candidate — but his focus on unglamorous-but-important products for business use means he shows up at public events less often than colleagues such as Joe Belfiore of the Windows Phone team. (Presumably that will now change.) He also seems to have lost interest in Twitter.
10. We don’t know anything about his master plan. The fact that he’s a Microsoft long-timer might indicate he’s less likely to immediately attempt to impose massive change on the company than an outsider would have been. Or maybe not. And his background in business tools may or may not say anything about the company’s interest moving forward in consumer offerings such as its Xbox gaming and entertainment platform. Stay tuned for more thoughts once Nadella starts to outline his vision for public consumption — and don’t be too surprised if that doesn’t happen immediately.
Here’s Microsoft’s first promotional video featuring Nadella: