Microsoft has a new CEO: Satya Nadella. Most people haven’t heard of him. It also has a new “technical advisor”: Bill Gates. Most people have heard of him.
“Mr. Gates said he would devote up to a third of his time—which is now largely devoted to philanthropic activities—to help Mr. Nadella craft Microsoft’s product strategy,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
Is this good news for Microsoft? The Journal offered a skeptical view: “Mr. Gates, while known for his technical expertise, is also linked to past Microsoft product stumbles and has little track record in areas such as smartphones, which are critical to the company’s future.”
We cannot say whether Gates, who co-founded Microsoft in 1975 and has been serving as the company’s chairman, is going to offer Nadella sage advice. But, either way, Peter Drucker would have had a few thoughts on how Gates ought to carry out his new position.
As we’ve noted, it’s always tricky for founders to take on a different role. Even Gates, who has been so successful in endeavors outside of Microsoft, might well be tempted to overreach. “His return,” the Journal noted, “raises questions as to how free a hand Mr. Nadella will have in setting his own strategy as the company responds to an array of business challenges.”
Going forward, the trick for Gates will be to remain an advisor in the truest sense, avoiding the temptation to become a backseat driver or usurper.
“To do a decent job in an advisory and teaching capacity requires someone who genuinely wants others to get the credit,” Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “It requires an individual who starts out with the aim of enabling others to do what they want to do, provided only that it is neither immoral nor insane.”
What’s more, Drucker added, “it requires further someone who has the patience to let others learn rather than go and do the work single-handed.”
Wen Shi, a software development engineer in Microsoft’s Office software division, told the Journal: “A lot of people—the reason they are here is because of Bill. As youngsters they thought he changed the world. We have trust in him.”
As technical advisor, he now must display the utmost trust in them.
What do you think? Will Bill Gates be a plus for Microsoft in his new role?