Former Microsoft Exec on New CEO: "They Found a Sheep, a Follower."

by Dan Lyons

Date

February 5, 2014 at 12:01 PM

nadellaWhen Microsoft announced last year that it would start recruiting a new CEO to replace Steve Ballmer, it seemed as if the company might be on the verge of really shaking things up. But those hopes were dashed when Microsoft announced that, after months of interviewing candidates, the board had given the job to Satya Nadella, a 22-year Microsoft veteran.

“This reminds me of the pope — only gestures, and no real reform to be expected,” says Joachim Kempin, a former Microsoft executive who has been pounding the table for change at the company. “Looks like they found their sheep, a follower.”

This is classic Kempin. He’s a fierce, fearless, outspoken guy, a classic example of “hardcore, old-school Microsoft,” as I wrote last year. 

Kempin was a top executive at Microsoft from 1983 to 2002, the glory years for the company. Last year, after a decade of watching Microsoft struggle, Kempin published a book, “Resolve and Fortitude: Microsoft’s Secret Power Broker Breaks His Silence,” that was in part a memoir of his time at Microsoft and in part a scathing critique of how the company had lost its way under CEO Steve Ballmer.

When his book came out I interviewed him for ReadWrite, where I was editor-in-chief. He was so brazen and so smart that I asked him to become a columnist for ReadWrite. He agreed, and went on to write a series of brilliant articles about how Microsoft could be fixed. His recommendations all involved radical surgery, including getting rid of Bill Gates and bringing in new blood, and selling off whole parts of the company.

Disappointed

joachim_headshotWhen Nadella’s appointment was announced yesterday, I reached out to Kempin. I figured he’d be disappointed, and he was.

“Most important, Bill is gone. But he and Steve will still be on the board. The new chairman [John Thompson, a longtime IBMer and former Symantec CEO who joined Microsoft’s board of directors in 2012 and is replacing Gates as chairman] is not very impressive. There will be a lot of shadow boxing between the CEO and the other guys,” Kempin wrote to me via email.

As for Microsoft’s decision to have Gates become a technical advisor to the company, Kempin thinks it’s ridiculous. “Nadella won’t need tech advice. So making Bill his adviser is the biggest joke I have heard in a long time.”

Like a lot of former Microsoft guys, Kempin stays in touch with people who are still at the company. “Insiders say the guy has not done anything impressive at all. So he will struggle getting attention and respect,” he wrote.

“Most interesting, he can neither spell CONSUMER nor DEVICE. He is a softie, and he is a big business serving guy. His stated goal is to bring innovation faster to market. No track record there either. The best way to do that is to sell some parts of the company and get rid of a lot of fat. He won’t do that either.”

For what it’s worth, I spoke to another former Microsoft executive who thinks Nadella will be a competent, albeit uninspiring CEO who will not be as good as his two predecessors, Gates and Ballmer.

Then again, who would have been better? Names mentioned during the search were Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford, and Steve Mollenkopf, the CEO of Qualcomm. I’m not sure either of those guys would have revved anyone’s engines, either.

What’s your take? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Written by Dan Lyons

Marketing Fellow at HubSpot. Former tech editor at Newsweek, tech columnist at Forbes, and creator of "Fake Steve Jobs."

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