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3 Best Big-Name CEO Hires in 2014

Can Satya Nadella, Jeffrey Clarke and Mark Fields deliver a bright future for their companies?

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Satya Nadella, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)

Source: Microsoft

This is a big week for MSFT’s new CEO Satya Nadella: Analysts will be looking for clues about his vision for the future on the tech giant’s earnings call Thursday — the day before the company’s expected close of its $7.2 billion deal to acquire Nokia (NYSE:NOK).

Steve Ballmer, who had been CEO of MSFT since 2000, was always going to be a tough act for any chief to follow — a process further complicated by the lack of any serious succession planning. After a wild CEO search that generated candidates like Ford’s Alan Mulally, Qualcomm’s (NASDAQ:QCOM) Steve Mollenkopf, and Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) CEO Hans Vestberg, MSFT refocused its search within the company.

Nadella, a 22-year MSFT veteran who helped drive the company into the cloud services arena, won out, officially taking the helm on Feb. 4.

Satya Nadella is a solid choice — as a Microsoft insider, he knows the inning and the score. The first huge test will be managing the integration of the Nokia acquisition, which MSFT is counting on to advance the company’s mobility strategy.

But this new devices business, which is being identified to partners as “Microsoft Mobile Oy,” brings with it former Nokia CEO (and MSFT alum) Stephen Elop, who was once a contender for the job Satya Nadella now holds. Elop will report to Nadella and will head up Devices, MSFT’s Surface line and will be involved in the evolving Xbox business.

That said, Nadella will need more than tech savvy to succeed in his new role: He must work closely with former Symantec CEO John Thompson, who replaced iconic founder Bill Gates as MSFT chairman in February to chart the course for the company’s future. But while Ballmer and Gates are out of Microsoft’s daily operations, they own a ton of MSFT stock and still will influence the company’s direction.

Satya Nadella is a good choice at the right time for Microsoft, but it remains to be seen whether he will be given the autonomy to execute a focused strategy, or whether MSFT will be hobbled by multiple executive fiefdoms.

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