Microsoft’s Satya Nadella was supposed to look good by default as he took over the CEO job from the universally maligned Steve Ballmer. All Nadella had to do was not trip over his own shoelaces in his first months on the job – but he’s managed to do just that, now more than one. Microsoft has announced another round of layoffs today, meaning the new boss is pushing even more employees out the door that the cash-rich Microsoft could have afforded to keep. Throw in his bizarre flub on gender pay equity, and Microsoft investors could soon be looking to lay him off, sending him down the coast to join his former boss with the LA Clippers. But can Nadella still turn around his rockey tenure, and turn Microsoft around with it?
The Satya Nadella era initially appeared to be steered in the right direction, as he quickly fixed Ballmer’s Xbox One pricing mistake and opened the new gaming console up to more users. The initial round of layoffs, while not necessary, felt like a prudent move considering the increasing dead weight in certain Microsoft product lines that are no longer as popular as they used to be. But things took a turn, at least in the perception department, when Nadella answered a question about women struggling to receive equal pay in the tech industry by suggesting that they rely on “karma” instead of asking for equal pay. That went over like a lead balloon, and the followup statement he released did little to alleviate the controversy.
And now here comes Microsoft laying off even more people. This second round of layoffs isn’t a good look. It suggests that either Nadella wasn’t able to accurately gauge the number of layoffs needed last time around, or things have gotten worse inside the company since then, or that he thought it would look better if he held multiple rounds of layoffs in smaller numbers. In any case the move points to a lack of vision, and that’s troublesome at a time when Steve Ballmer lost the Microsoft CEO job due to his own lack of vision.
Nadella’s fate will be more dependent on whether he can may any hay of the Nokia acquisition and transform the failing Windows Phone platform into something more popular. But so far all he’s done on the mobile side, at least externally, is to greenlight misguided television ads which try to claim that the Surface tablet is somehow more powerful than a MacBook laptop. Such moves can only serve to turn Microsoft’s products into a punchline, which would be even worse than their current fate of being gradually forgotten.
Nothing that Mr. Nadella has said publicly thus far suggests that he has any ideas or vision for turning Microsoft or its sinking product lines around. But it could be that, until various internal strategies are ready to go, he may simply be holding his cards close to the vest. One has to wonder, however, how much time he’ll be given to continue producing no externally visible results. If all else fails, Mr. Ballmer just might have to end up giving him an LA Clippers job after all.