Perfect (Windows) 10 Part I – Microsoft's Mastermind CEO Satya Nadella; The Nokia write-down was on the wall

Satya Nadella
Satya Nadella (Image credit: Windows Central)

He must plan his company's strategies in view of the next 5, 10, 15 even 20 years. Literally. Consequently the short-term annual shifts we see occurring at the end/beginning of fiscal years are more often than not, the scheduled execution of predetermined objectives of the larger goal. Rather than the drastic untimely upheavals they may appear to be.


I believe that Satya Nadella is a mastermind. Not the villainous recluse that sits in a lair conjuring far reaching nefarious plans. No, not the devious antagonist who strategically orchestrates events toward the fulfillment of those evil plans. Nadella's nothing like Samuel L Jackson's unassuming, but malevolent character, Mr. Glass, the nemesis to Bruce Willis's character in the film Unbreakable.

I don't believe that Nadella is a villain. Nor do I believe that he is a recluse. He likely has an office rather than a lair. I'm being coy. I'm sure that he has an office rather than a lair. I do believe that he sits in that office and conceives far reaching ambitious plans. I also believe that he strategically orchestrates events toward the fulfillment of those plans.

Yes, I sincerely believe that Nadella is a mastermind. Again not the villainous variety. But the Meyers-Briggs personality type type (That's not a typo). Here's how the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator describes a Mastermind (INTJ–Introvert, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging):

"...All Rationals are good at planning operations, but Masterminds are head and shoulders above all the rest in contingency planning. Complex operations involve many steps or stages, one following another in a necessary progression, and Masterminds are naturally able to grasp how each one leads to the next, and to prepare alternatives for difficulties that are likely to arise any step of the way. Trying to anticipate every contingency, Masterminds never set off on their current project without a Plan A firmly in mind, but they are always prepared to switch to Plan B or C or D if need be. Masterminds are rare comprising no more than one to two percent of the population… Masterminds are certain that efficiency is indispensable in a well-run organization, and if they encounter inefficiency -- any waste of human and material resources -- they are quick to realign operations and reassign personnel… Problem-solving is highly stimulating to Masterminds, who love responding to tangled systems that require careful sorting out. Ordinarily, they verbalize the positive and avoid comments of a negative nature; they are more interested in moving an organization forward than dwelling on mistakes of the past."

That sounds like Satya Nadella to me.

In the beginning; bold ambitions

I believe that during Nadella's initial days as CEO, likely sooner, he formulated multiple strategies that he fancied would help position Microsoft to reap the full benefits of the unified Windows 10 platform. A perfect 10.

I also believe that his mobile strategy has been well thought out, subtlely communicated and efficiently executed since he took the helm in 2014. Today his mobile strategy is exactly where he planned it would be.

Yes, I know that many perceive the Nokia write-down as Nadella's reactive move to a failure to salvage a standalone mobile phone business. I believe, however, that like Mr. Glass orchestrated tragedies to achieve his vision, the write-down was part of Nadella's larger vision for mobile. Yes, I believe as we review what Nadella shared as his vision for Redmond by way of his July 10, 2014 "Bold Ambition and Our Core" memo, we may see that "the write-down was on the wall."

Memory Lane

On 7/10/14, the first month of the first quarter of Microsoft's 2015 fiscal year, Nadella addressed all Microsoft employees in his vision setting "Bold Ambition and Our Core" memo.

That email set the tone for his first year as CEO of Microsoft and laid out in broad strokes his long-term vision for the company. It also contained strong language that telegraphed, in my view, the structural shake-ups and the Nokia write-down that were, in my estimation, always a part of Nadella's long-term vision.

In that memo Nadella was clear that nothing was off the table, the company's priorities would be adjusted and he also stressed high expectations regarding contributions from employees and teams.

Bold Ambition and Our Core - 7/10/14

Nothing is off the table in how we think about shifting our culture to deliver on this core strategy." Our priorities will be adjusted. New skills will be built. New ideas will be heard. New hires will be made. Processes will be simplified. And if you want to thrive at Microsoft and make a world impact, you and your team must add numerous more changes to this list that you will be enthusiastic about driving.

Less than one year later on 6/25/15, five days before the end of the fourth quarter of FY15, Satya shared in an email titled:

Aligning Our Strategy and Structure – 6/25/15

"I believe that culture is not static. It evolves every day based on the behaviors of everyone in the organization. We are in an incredible position to seize new growth this year. We will need to innovate in new areas, execute against our plans, make some tough choices in areas where things are not working and solve hard problems in ways that drive customer value."

Both emails acknowledge:

  • A dynamic culture ("shifting" - 2014/"not static"- 2015).
  • The importance of the contributions of individuals.
  • The commitment to what could be perceived as drastic actions ("nothing is off the table"- 2014/ "make some tough choices"- 2015).

Wait, I heard that before

Allow me to be candid. Elements of Nadella's 6/25/15 email clearly echo what he stated a year earlier in the communication of his long-term vision.

Consider. If he made the same statements on 7/10/14 before the events of the then coming fiscal year, could the 6/25/15 statements be a response to said events? Of course not. Every decision communicated in June/July 2015 was already made, by July 10, 2014,, in anticipation of the coming year. Mastermind.

"Trying to anticipate every contingency. Masterminds never set off on their current project without a Plan A firmly in mind, but they are always prepared to switch to Plan B or C or D if need be."

Consider further that not long before the latter email, Stephen Elop, former Executive Vice President to the Devices and Services division, left the company. Nadella shared that both he and Elop agreed that this was the right time for his departure. The remaining leadership was realigned to improve further engineering and simplify processes.

"Masterminds are certain that efficiency is indispensable in a well-run organization, and if they encounter inefficiency -- any waste of human and material resources -- they are quick to realign operations and reassign personnel…"

In his June 25, 2015, memo, I believe Nadella was executing on predetermined short term goals that were aligned with his long-term vision.

Again, what is notable is that Nadella telegraphed in his 2014 memo what would be executed at the end of FY15. The "realignment" addressed in June 2015 was not a reactive move to the year's performance, but the execution of a short-term objective timed for the end of FY15 as part of a long-term vision.

Nothing is off the table

In an email themed – Sharpening Business Focus – Nadella aligned our focus with his as he brought the strategic objectives executed at the end of FY15 into view. On 7/8/15, less than one year after his 7/10/14 email and "Nothing is off the table statement", Nadella made abundantly clear his previous allusions.

In what was apparently an FY15 one-year objective, Nadella executed his plan; exercising an option that was obviously on the table. The tough choice of writing down the $7.6 billion Nokia purchase.

"Processes will be simplified."-Nadella 7/10/14

A recent filing to the SEC reveals Microsoft's apparent acknowledgment that phone hardware did not meet "volume and revenue goals during the second half of FY15." The filing further acknowledges changes in the competitive marketplace which together with the first assertion and a claim of units sold having lower margins than planned, are stated as the reasons for the Nokia write down. During Windows Weekly episode 426 (50:36 mark in the video below), Paul Thurrott touched on the dubious notion that Microsoft was unaware they were selling phones for less than expected.

Nadella knew.

Now, as mentioned above, a CEO must have a vision that encompasses the next 20 years. The six short months from Nadella's July 2014 email to the January 2015 beginning of FY15's second half (when it is noted that phone hardware sales began to fail to meet goal), fell well within the time span of his long-term vision.

I believe that Nadella, in July 2014, clearly perceived the peril Microsoft's mobile phone unit was in. We all did.

Let's be real, the writing was on wall

Let's step back to July 2014, the point at which Nadella would have been communicating his vision for the company moving forward. Windows Phone had a 3% market share. Rivals Google, Samsung and Apple were showing no signs of yielding ground. As a matter of fact, leaks of a larger iPhone by this time had abounded. Nadella, like any astute industry watcher, knew that there was pent-up demand for a larger iPhone. This thing would sell.

Coupled with Apple solidifying its relationship with the massive Chinese market, Nadella was keenly aware. At the start of FY15, Microsoft's struggling mobile phone unit would likely lose market share and revenue against the new iPhone and Samsung flagship releasing for the 2014 holiday season. A season that aligned with the second quarter of FY15 (Oct-Dec) and directly preceded FY15's second half (Jan-June). Remember FY15's second half is the period Windows Phone would supposedly miss their expected mark, which would subsequently reportedly require a shift in operational strategy.

I don't believe that Window Phone's performance in FY15's second half was a surprise to Nadella.

He knew of Windows Phones failure to gain meaningful market share at the point of his 2014 address. From this point he was looking forward toward a holiday season, that he knew would be a boon for Apple and cater to Samsung. The fallout, he knew, would continue into FY15's second half bolstered by Apple's newly inked deal with China.

I believe these anticipated events moved Nadella to foreshadow subtly, through his "Nothings off the table" statement, the shifts he had planned as part of his long-term vision. Shifts we have recently seen manifest at the beginning of FY16. The Nokia write-down and an adjustment to priorities in mobile.

I believe Nadella's a mastermind. Again not the villainous variety, but the Meyers-Briggs personality type type.

"Complex operations involve many steps or stages, one following another in a necessary progression, and Masterminds are naturally able to grasp how each one leads to the next…,"

The Nokia write-down was just the first step in Nadella's vision toward an efficient Windows 10 mobile strategy. His strategy for Microsoft's value, flagship and business phones and Microsoft's ecosystem is the next. And like the write-down, the highs and lows of this strategy have long been in the works.

Jason Ward

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!