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It will be a mistake for Microsoft to appoint Alan Mulally as CEO.

It interesting that the same bunch of Wall Street analysts, majority of whom have never managed a business or have no deep experience in the industries they cover, are now advocating for Microsoft to appoint a guy from an automobile manufacturer as CEO of a technology company.  One of the lessons folks learn in business school about Mergers and Acquisitions is the incredibly high failure rates. However few fail to grasp the fact that a lot of companies erroneously turn to investment bankers with little or no operational experience to advise on their deals and hence no secret a lot fail.  In current Microsoft situation, again we have investment banking analyst with no operating experience in technology hawking the same bad advice. 

Microsoft is a software company with well defined competencies in that space, but it is going up against Google, Apple, Samsung, and possibily Blackberry, all companies with younger and more visonary leadership able to deliver user experiences with products able to create categories in their own right.  Their management bench is staffed with folks with strong design imperatives and with an eye for selecting winning products.

Microsoft does not have an operational execution problem, which is the type of corporate problem you will need Alan Mulally for.  What Boeing and Ford have in common is traditional big systems technology overlaid with large project deliveries typical of durable goods manufacturing.  Microsoft's problem is lack of reimagination in user experiences in the software technology mass market.  Steve Ballmer failed largely due to 2 fundamental problems.  1) His huge stake in Microsoft and the desire to preserve a dying desktop model made it difficult for him to take risk with the Windows product, and 2) He was a great sales man and operating head but lacked a design core and hence was a horrible gate keeper for winning products.  We all remember the Microsoft Kin, the Courier, MediaCenter and a few other products that offer quite an insight into Microsoft's problem. 

When Microsoft thought about creating a tablet even Apple had not thought about doing a phone.  The resulting tablet PC was as bulky and non-functional as a laptop masquerading as a tablet.  That was the direct result of putting an old IBM technologist, Craig Mundie, who seemed more of an infrastructure guy but lacked a design core.  His reimagining of the laptop went as far coming up with something that could fit in a bagback as opposed Steve Job's reimagining a tablet as something offering an experience.  Unfortunately that's a problem Microsoft has had for a long while.  A problem where most of its product ideas are driven by software engineers who lack design core and think everything snapped from Costco is a great product because it is cheap and functional.  This showed itself when Microsoft tried to go up against Intuit and it's Quicken products.  What Microsoft offered as a Tax and Personal Finance management products flopped because they seemed more designed for engineers than the average user with their emphasis on point and clicks.  Unlike Quicken products, you had to fight the software to get things done.   Then who can forget the recent Surface tablet and its fixation on a perpetual  landscape formfactor.  Samsung's ATIV Tab 3 10.1" tablet is really the product experience Microsoft should have flagged as a flagship Windows tableft. 
Microsoft Surface 2 with a stylus that is not integrated into hardware.

Samsung ATIV Tab 3 with slot for stylus but much better experience.

The Xbox, however, was different and it succeeded because it started as a true product category offering gaming experiences  that had nothing to do with the windows ecosystem. The emphasis was on delivering gaming ecperiences and for the first time the traditional Microsoft software engineers were not the drivers.  Microsoft software engineers have an unhealthy pepertual fixation on Windows as a solution for what customers want and that is not good for the company.  Lately, their product managers have been talking about unifying Windows across all devices from desktop to mobile devices to Xbox.  What users want are compelling user experiences that make them get on with doing what they enjoy doing.  Whether the plumbing relies on one or a three operating system flavors or not, does not really matter.

If there is anyone who understands these issues and how to deliver experiences that Microsoft needs it is Satya Nadella.  He is one of a few Microsoft executives who is well-respected in the company. Very articulate and visionary, passionate about technology and possesing the business acumen to select winning products. As an exceptional manager, Satya has excelled at every role at Microsoft.  From Microsoft Dynamics business products to the Server & Tools business, he has delivered incredibly compelling products.  In person, he reminds you of the technical acuteness of Bill Gates, able to dive deep into the technical details with developers and still able to manage these teams towards delivering end-to-end product experiences such as we are seeing with Azure.  If Microsoft wants to stay relevant and surpass Apple in delivering compelling software products for the mass market, then Satya is the man.  If Microsoft wants to follow Google into the driverless auto market, then maybe it ought to pick Alan Mulally.


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