The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

New CEO Nadella's collaborative approach comes in contrast to outgoing CEO Ballmer's bombast

  • Print

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - 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 Corp.

Nadella's impromptu town hall webcast had interrupted business meetings between 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.

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," says 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 says. "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 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 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 onto 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 says. "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, says 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 says. 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 says.

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 says. 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 says.

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 isn'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, says 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 says.

"What they need to do is start their 'second wave' thinking," Klepper says. "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 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 says.

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

___

Business Writer Michael Liedtke in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

In the Key of Bart: Can’t It Be Nice This Time?

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 090728 / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS White Pelicans belly up to the sushi bar Tuesday afternoon at Lockport. One of North America's largest birds is a common sight along the Red RIver and on Lake Winnipeg. Here the fight each other for fish near the base of Red RIver's control structure, giving human fisher's downstream a run for their money.
  • A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker hangs out on a birch tree in St. Vital. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is considered a keystone species. Other species take advantage of the holes that the birds make in trees. A group of sapsuckers are collectively known as a

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What are you most looking forward to this Easter weekend?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google