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Ditching political Elop makes for a more Nadella Microsoft

Getting the Redmond you need?


I simply don't buy that Elop was a Microsoft Trojan horse. Nor do I buy the conspiracy theory that he was purposefully brought in by the Nokia board to tank the share price and sell it off. The truth is a lot more complicated.

Nokia was screwed even before Elop took it over. It's part of why he was sought out to take it over in the first place. Nokia had some potentially great technologies, but internal (and external) politics meant that none of them was ever going to be able to evolve fast enough to counter Apple and Google in the mobile space.

Elop did what Elop always does: he grabbed hold of someone else's vision and he went forth and made it so. The problem is that he reached for the mobile vision with which he was most familiar: Microsoft's. As mobile visions go, it's pretty awful, and it's largely the result of ignoring and alienating customers.

But look at this objectively. Elop executed on the Microsoft mobile vision perfectly. He built the best damned phones you could have asked for; the few problems that cropped up tended to be Microsoft's, not Nokia's. The problem was emphatically not in Elop's execution, it was that the vision he chose to execute on was crap.

Elop will tell you that everything he did was known to the Nokia board of directors and with their support. He was transparent to his employees as well as the board. He's absolutely correct.

And he's absolutely wrong.

Elop is a powerful presence. He has a natural charisma and ability to elicit support that needs to be factored into his own equations. A group of people he sells on his particular execution of a given vision isn't objective, because he is so powerful a personality that he can sell people on ideas they would otherwise never buy into.

That's charisma is very useful in any number of situations, but it is markedly counterproductive when the only checks and balances against Elop are the very people he's charming. Someone needs to make sure Elop is backing the right horse, and that person (or those people) need to be as disconnected from Elop as possible.

When it was clear that Nokia's mobile ambitions had been mortally wounded Elop was tasked with selling off that arm of the company. Given concise marching orders he did just that. He got better money out of Microsoft for what was left of Nokia's mobile division than anyone else would have gotten.

One more time: if you point Elop in the right direction, he does a good job. Let him pick his own path and the results are less stellar.

Elop where he belongs

There is a place for Elop in this world, but it isn't running the Nokias of the planet. Elop belongs in the startup scene.

I have observed many start ups that suffer from "high-touch" CEOs who are far too close to the product they created. They are typically lead engineer on the startup's only product as well as playing CEO, business development, getting their fingers in marketing, sales and everything else.

Inevitably, they drive the company straight into the ground. They just can't disconnect and pick one role. They need to be sent back to engineering (or product management) and kept the hell out of the executive.

These are typically companies with great products. The vision behind the product is fantastic. The need is clearly defined, the target market begging for something that works. What's needed is someone who can execute on that vision, and that's what Elop does best.

I run into dozens of companies every year that fit this description. Half of them could be taken from "nobody" to "Nutanix" in five years if they'd put Elop in charge. I don't know if Elop has ever considered playing in that world. I hope he does.

Cheering his departure

I cheer Elop's departure from Microsoft because of what it means for Microsoft's new CEO, Satya Nadella. Elop is not a Nadella cheerleader and to be perfectly blunt about it, that's a problem.

Elop's natural state is to accumulate political power. He does this not – as many would suggest – because of an innate need for power, but because Elop knows political power is often required to execute the tasks he is given. Any competent manager does the same: never pass up an opportunity to put someone else in your debt.

By now, Elop is quite good at accumulating power. His influence spreads far and wide within Microsoft. He is also firmly in the camp of executives that keep Microsoft shattered into competing fiefdoms.

This makes sense, when you think about it: there are only so many resources to go around. If you are tasked with making your particular project succeed then someone else's project needs to be starved. He gets the job done, at any cost, and this means he is not a very good team player.

That's a huge problem for Nadella. Nadella is trying to reform Microsoft. He is trying to move the company from one of competing fiefdoms to one where all departments work in unison to execute upon a singular vision.

The board of directors is fighting Nadella on the details of execution, and by some reports just about everything else. Nadella's own executives have been jealously guarding their empires and have so far prevented any real change from occurring.

If power on the board shifted and the crazy people took over, Elop would be exactly the right person to use to gut the company. As you can see, there aren't a whole lot of compelling reasons to keep Elop around.

The most compelling reason to kick him to the curb, however, is that Nadella needs to set an example: obey or die. It doesn’t matter how close you were to Ballmer, Gates, the mewling bag of MS executive cats or what your own personal wealth is.

This is Nadella's Microsoft now, and if you don't like it then get the hell out.

For better or worse, Elop's departure finally signals true change within Microsoft. That alone makes me cheer. No more promises that never seem to amount to anything. No more strategy discussions that don't change things for the end customer.

Nadella finally has the power to do whatever he wants to do. From this point on, everything is on him. I personally believe he has the ability to build a better Microsoft. Whether or not he chooses to is entirely up to him.

I, for one, am very curious to see how it all plays out. One pink slip could change the future of our data centers ... in more ways than one. ®


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