Satya Nadella and Microsoft just hit one of the all-time corporate pivot moments

Remember back in about 1996, when there were all sorts of pre-Internet memes about how, if Bill Gates stumbled across a $20 on the street, it actually wasn’t worth his time to bend over and pick it up? Everyone thought they were a monopoly over at Microsoft, Apple was down, Google was still in a garage, and … Redmond, WA owned the tech world for as far as the eye could see.

Flash forward to today: Microsoft just laid off 14 percent of its employees, predominantly in the mobile (Nokia) space. The pivot of all pivots — MBA jargon alert! — is coming. A company that gave the world Microsoft Office and owned the PC market only shipped 14 percent of the world’s computers last year. The Nadella hire was awesome from a “poach vs. develop” standpoint, and they may need that internal knowledge more than ever now. They just owned the World Cup — data science space! — but that doesn’t pay for 10K+ employees, per se.

To go back to something from the previous paragraph, “corporate pivot” refers to, essentially, switching your focal point. Oftentimes, MBA-type case studies revolve around this idea centrally. Either a company adapted (Netflix, for example) or it didn’t (Kodak, for example) — and that’s the line where everything can be defined. It’s honestly amazing to think that a company once as big and dominant as Microsoft — and still big and dominant in many ways, honestly — is facing such a pivot.

It seems like the focus is going to be “productivity and platforms” for the “mobile-first, cloud-first” world. That’s good that Microsoft has realized this. It’s also possible that Office for iPad might become the future of the productivity market. Nadella’s base summary of the “new” Microsoft is that “we help people get stuff done.” In a world that is insanely focused on how busy everyone is, that’s not a bad marketing strategy (cue “The Essentialist Movement”). Nadella seems to be aiming for simple synchronicity across multiple devices. As PC World explains:

That, of course, will be aided by Microsoft’s machine learning and ubiquitous computing endeavors—two initiatives that Nadella has been keen to push during his short reign thus far. Those are basically fancy buzzwords for using big data and cloud computing to help you in your everyday life and delivering a seamless experience across devices, the results of which we’re already starting to see in the cross-device syncing capabilities of Windows 8 and SkyDrive, as well as Microsoft’s recently unveiled Universal Apps that span Windows 8 and Windows Phone alike.

It seems like Nadella and his core leadership team made a good bet here — if they can bring true leadership to the cloud space and dominate the productivity space, they could stay in that race with Google, Facebook, et al around the various aspects of tech. But it is interesting to see such a pivot, and only 20 years or so after they were the company in tech.


Ted Bauer