Microsoft Names Satya Nadella as New CEO: Will This Be a Reboot or a Total Refresh for the Software Giant?

It took five months to find a new chief executive for Microsoft. And in the end, it turns out Microsoft’s board of directors didn’t have to look far at all.

Satya Nadella, a 22-year veteran of the software company, and most recently, executive vice president of its cloud and enterprise group, was promoted to the CEO role on February 4. He is Microsoft’s third CEO, after Steve Ballmer and company founder, Bill Gates.

Aside from serving as a good reminder of why companies should be proactive about succession planning — there were more than 100 contenders at one point, according to a Wall Street Journal report — Nadella’s appointment to the top spot has many wondering what’s next for the software giant.

Some technology publications, like Wired, speculate that “we’re about to see a company that looks more like [Bill] Gates rather than less.” According to the same report, that’s a good thing for Microsoft, because Nadella has both technology and business savvy — and “a knack for pushing the tech giant in new directions.” And TechCrunch observes that Nadella’s extensive involvement in Microsoft’s digital rights management and interactive TV initiatives, and its Xbox division, makes him “a more well-rounded pick for the top spot than many may realize.”, meanwhile, offers this take on Nadella’s promotion: “What Nadella is not is an outsider, making his choice less compelling to those who believe that Microsoft needed someone with no prior history and attachments at the company who could shake things up.” Computerworld also noted that there is “no hint” as yet that Nadella will “produce a dramatically different strategy” for Microsoft than the “devices and services” strategy introduced by Ballmer. (For a list of “good news, bad news and unknowns” about Microsoft’s decision to promote Nadella, see ZDNet’s report.)

What no one questions is that Nadella has a big job ahead of him. He is, after all, taking the reins at a US$300 billion global company and becoming caretaker of an iconic tech brand. Nadella’s first order of business, though, is helping Microsoft employees adapt to change. He began by emphasizing the importance of innovation in his first letter as CEO to Microsoft employees: “Our industry does not respect tradition — it only respects innovation. … Make no mistake, we are headed for greater places — as technology evolves and we evolve with and ahead of it. Our job is to ensure that Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world.”

Inspiring words, yes. But as The New Yorker observes, “Nadella’s challenge [is] profound: he cannot merely finish constructing the world for which he’s been handed the blueprints; instead, he must begin to imagine a wholly new one.”

The good news for Nadella is that he’ll have a highly qualified mentor at his side as he starts to create that new world: Bill Gates himself. At Nadella’s request, Gates is stepping down as chairman of Microsoft’s board to serve as a “technology advisor.” In a YouTube video, Gates said he is “very excited” about Nadella’s appointment, and is now looking forward to helping the company with a “long history of innovation” define its next round of products.

So, with its new CEO in place, and its first CEO on hand to offer his specialized skills to help move the company forward, Microsoft appears poised to enter a new era of innovation.