46735cb0-8e20-11e3-9ffa-a2e2e094297aAndrew Curry writes: There’s been relatively little business comment on the appointment of Satya Nadella as Microsoft’s third chief executive, given the size and reach of the company, and I’m not going to add to it here.

If you want commentary, the Financial Times suggested that he needed to worry about the cloud (and the Pope is still a Catholic) and there are a couple of useful lists.
I’m more interested in the semiotics of the picture that Microsoft issued and which was used by the FT and others, as seen at the top of this post, and what this tells us about leadership style.

I’m taking it as read that this is a deliberate picture – you don’t get to be head of Communications at a business like Microsoft without knowing that you need to spend some time on the presentation of a new Chief Executive.

So, first, the dark hoodie, which immediately says that this is a man who is as comfortable – perhaps more so – down with the programmers as he is up with the elite at Davos. And it says a bit more. It lays claim to the entrepreneurial – a sort of “Stevenberg” or “Zuckerjobs”.

Then there’s the eyeline, not quite horizontal, but not to the skies either, more a confident scanning of the horizon. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help”? Eyes on the prize?

But the most striking aspect of the portrait is the complete absence of technology. There are probably good commercial reasons for this – outside of Xbox, Microsoft’s technology isn’t very exciting these days – but it turns on its head one of the iron rules of the sector, that every photo opportunity is also a sales and marketing opportunity.

In fact, the plain wooden background, though doubtless the work of an expensive interior designer, says two more things. Combined with the clothes, it yells “voluntary simplicity” at the viewer, while also plugging into a whole iconography of Indians who are associated with quiet and lasting change (Gandhi, obviously, as well as others, such as Satish Kumar).

And this sense that Nadella is the Un-Ballmer is compounded by the interests he talked to the media about at his unveiling, of Russian literature, known for its length and its complexity, and his passion for Test cricket, which famously, and un-Americanly, can last for five days and can still end in a draw. This sent US tech writers scurrying to explain.

In short, the image and narrative that is offered is about making the most of difference, of writing a new story, of the virtues of patience, of living with complexity.  My guess is that we won’t be hearing much about quick fixes, 100-day plans or burning platforms. Which is a good thing, because good strategy needs care and thought.

The photograph at the top of this post is from Microsoft and is used with thanks.


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