Did Microsoft Buy Nokia To Head Off Nokia Android Switch?

Jason Hiner suggests that Elop is not the frontrunner for Ballmer’s replacement. Why? First, he failed disastrously at Nokia losing billions and laying off 20,000. Second, Hiner says that the next CEO should be all about the enterprise.

Jason Hiner, The case against Stephen Elop as Microsoft CEO

Two Wall Street analysts – Ben Thompson and Benedict Evans – are already questioning whether Microsoft actually bought Nokia because Nokia was threatening to stop making Windows Phones, and not because Microsoft wanted Elop.

Just a quibble: If Elop and the Nokia board pulled that off, hats off to them. And don’t forget the remaining Nokia still has the right to make phones, so maybe they’ll start building Android phones now.

Another factor that works against Elop as CEO is that about 10 of Microsoft’s 16 separate billion dollar businesses are now enterprise businesses. The company needs an enterprise leader, as I wrote in the Monday Morning Opener. Elop has limited enterprise experience, other than a stint as a CIO earlier in his career and a one-year tour at Juniper Networks. He has mostly worked with end user applications at Lotus, Macromedia, and Microsoft, where he primarily oversaw Microsoft Office. Elop technically ran “business” software at Microsoft, but it was not the kind of back-end cloud infrastructure that is destined to dominate Microsoft’s future, mostly centered around Azure.

Officially, Microsoft announced Elop will now run the company’s Devices and Studios business unit, which will be beefed up with the addition of 32,000 Nokia employees. The question we should be asking is whether this move indicates that there is another shoe still waiting drop.

Yes, the other shoe would be making Elop CEO of Microsoft (or maybe President for a year, then CEO). That may be the board’s plan.

Is Microsoft planning to put its healthy, high-margin enterprise businesses at the center of the company and spin off its low-margin consumer businesses into a new venture? Making Elop the CEO of that spin-off (which would likely include phones, tablets, and Xbox) would at least make more sense than Elop as the CEO of the enterprise-heavy Microsoft as we know it today.

I think that the Azure cloud computing business at Microsoft is *not* the future for the business. That is a battleground with a bunch of other lumbering dinosaurs – HP, IBM, Cisco – chasing Amazon and never getting close. At present Azure is principally the platform used by Microsoft for its own cloud efforts, like Office 365.

The future of Microsoft is exactly the “end user” oriented enterprise software that Elop has experience with. I’m not arguing he is the best candidate, but wondering what the board is likely to do. 

I maintain that spinning off the low margin consumer business would be a smart move, but I doubt the board is headed there. They are going to give another big push on the current devices and services business plan, and perhaps lose another $20B before whoever the new CEO is gets fired. Say it’s Elop, just as a strawman. Mid 2014, the board finally decides to give up on the consumer market after another year of mounting losses on Surface tablets and Nokia phones. That’s when they will finally become an enterprise software company, and spin off and shut down the rest.

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