If Microsoft is to realize its aim of again becoming the technology king of the Pacific Northwest, now is the time to make its move. Its rival for the crown, Jeff Bezos’ Seattle-based Amazon just missed earnings and its stock got pummeled–is it a blip or a harbinger? Satya Nadella, head of Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise engineering group, hopes it’s a little of both. Word on the street is that Nadella, not ex-Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, is going to run Microsoft next and become just the third man ever to run what is one of America’s most storied companies–one that changed the world immeasurably long before “disruption” became the rallying cry of techies everywhere. Microsoft surely wants to re-insert itself into the conversation about elite, innovating tech giants–a conversation that now includes Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon with nary a mention of the former king from Redmond.
Being an enterprise guy, Satya Nadella sees a future for Microsoft that’s not only sky high, but literally in the cloud–that’s his bailiwick, after all. Cloud has been a uniquely strong performer for Microsoft. And cloud is also where Amazon has made impressive inroads–it’s one reason Amazon stock rose 40% in the last year, before the recent earnings miss. Satya Nadella, if he wins the job, will keep pushing Microsoft in the wired direction it still seems intrinsically uncomfortable with. Unlike its major rivals, Microsoft’s corporate DNA predates wide adoption of the web and cloud enterprise–and DNA is a pretty powerful thing. Investors have been calling for Microsoft to pivot for a long time, and it tries but drags its feet. Is an insider like Nadella the one to change it all? Some investors want an outsider, but they’d be smart to look closely at where the growth in Microsoft has come from–the cloud–and align their ambitions with Nadella. He’s so far been adept at playing catch-up. And sky’s the limit.