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Why is Bill Gates Back at Microsoft?

Earlier today, Microsoft named its third CEO as Satya Nadella. Nadella has a strong history in enterprise and cloud services at Microsoft, and since his appointment as CEO, many have assumed (including us) that this is the direction Microsoft is headed. Nadella is taking the reigns and steering Microsoft towards a future that focuses heavily on enterprise software, cloud computing, and big data. That's the big story of the day. But almost as big is the fact that Nadella won't be leading Microsoft alone. Indeed, he'll have some help from founder and former CEO and chairman Bill Gates.

Alongside the appointment of Nadella as CEO, Microsoft announced that Bill Gates would step down from his position as Chairman of the Board and right into the brand new role of 'Technology Advisor' to Satya Nadella. The specifics of this new role have not yet been laid out. Microsoft has only said that Gates will "devote more time to the company, supporting Nadella in shaping technology and product direction."

What does this mean? Why is Bill back? At best, the message is that Satya is the talent and leadership Microsoft needs to succeed in enterprise and cloud computing, a monstrous market, but lacks vision when it comes to consumer product and direction. At worst, Gates' presence is purely to appease shareholders who believe Microsoft needs fresh blood and a true innovator to move forward. A mix of the two is probably most likely. As we said earlier, if Microsoft can leverage its position in the work place in order to expand its reach in enterprise and take it to the next level with cloud services, it's looking at a very bright future. Satya's vision for Microsoft undoubtedly revolves around enterprise, cloud computing, and big data. He definitely doesn't need Bill to help him get there (Microsoft's revenue from Cloud Services went from $16.6 billion to $20.3 billion in the two years after Satya was put in charge of the Cloud and Enterprise group). So Gates' new role is likely just a reassurance that someone with a reputation for innovation and success is still involved, influencing decisions with sound judgement, and offering advice on products.

Investor reaction to Microsoft's announcement was positive. Shares opened at $37.11 this morning, up from yesterday's closing price of $36.48. Things have leveled off a bit as the day has worn on. At time of writing, Microsoft shares were sitting at $36.54. We'd like to see the Sliding Doors scenario where Gates wasn't a part of today's announcement, just so we could see the true reaction to Satya's appointment without the security blanket that is Bill Gates.

The good news for consumers is that two heads are, almost always, better than one. As long as Satya Nadella isn't the kind of man opposed to back-seat drivers, Bill Gates will be able to offer a lot of valuable advice in areas where Satya could probably do with some help. The end result is a stronger and better executed product vision, which is awesome for all computer users.

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