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February 6, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 1:14pm

Has new Microsoft CEO made the right call on Bill Gates?

Satya Nadella is just the third CEO of Microsoft. Will the founder’s shadow be cast over his reign?

By Joe Curtis

New Microsoft boss Satya Nadella took over from Steve Ballmer this week, but it’s not the Michael Jackson fan he has to be worried about.

In these very early days of Nadella’s tenure, speculation is mounting over where the former VP of Cloud and Enterprise will take the tech giant in the years to come.

It’s been suggested that he’ll ditch devices entirely, despite the $7.2bn capture of Nokia last year, to focus on innovating in cloud services.

But it’s one of his more immediate decisions that has raised a few eyebrows among observers – his move to give company founder Bill Gates a bigger role.

The ex-chairman faced being booted off the board altogether four months ago, with fellow members fearing he would block change and meddle too much with the direction of his business.

So for Nadella to ask Gates to devote a third of his time to technology and products represents something of a turn around.

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CBR canvassed analyst opinion on the move.

Clive Howard, principle practitioner analyst, Creative Intellect UK

It was an issue for some people up for the role, that they would have Bill Gates looking over their shoulder as chairman. Actually giving Gates a tech role he’s going to love is in a way a very smart move: Nadella can’t just ask Gates to go away but giving him this techie role will distract him, he won’t be interfering with Nadella or the business.

IDC analysts

While this move may be marshalling internal alignment, it also provides Nadella a co-pilot that can help him learn the ropes as he takes on significantly more responsibilities including overseeing worldwide sales and other corporate functions. Gates remains highly respected internally, and it comes as a surprise that he returns given earlier statements.

While comparisons with Steve Jobs’ famed return to run the company will likely be cited, IDC believes that this is a change of a different color. Unlike Apple then, Microsoft is a highly profitable and growing company, and Gates has remained continuously involved in steering Microsoft as the chairman of its board. Gates is stepping down from the Microsoft board most likely to create the bandwidth needed for his new role along with his significant other commitments at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ted Schadler, VP and principal analyst, Forrester Research

Bill Gates will play a critical though invisible role in Microsoft’s future. By leaving the board of directors, he won’t be making strategic decisions as chairman. But he will be a vital force behind the scenes.

Gates’s new role is to advise and support Nadella as the new CEO pushes the company faster on a pivot to the cloud. The company has much to do. 1) Mash the products together into SaaS offerings. (Mr. Nadella has already done this with Azure, but now must do with Office 365, Skype, Dynamics, Bing, and much much more.) 2) Create a more comprehensive private cloud offering (beyond Office 365 Dedicated). 3) Break the lock between Windows and the rest of the business. (It’s the only way subscription services are interesting to today’s consumers and businesses. For example, Office must run everywhere.) Mr. Nadella will need help, not interference.

Merv Adrian, analyst, Gartner

Microsoft is trying to regain the leadership position in technology industry. This is why they are also giving Bill Gates a bigger role, which is encouraging. Gates is perceived as a visionary. The fact that Nadella is comfortable with a bigger role for Gates is also encouraging.

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