Almost three years ago, Microsoft named Satya Nadella as its CEO. Since then, Microsoft has reversed its fortunes and returned to being a growth stock after stagnating for nearly a decade — and 2016 was not an exception to that.
Indeed, as Microsoft continued its transition to cloud-based services and adopting multiple platforms, as well as taking big bets like buying LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in cash and continuing to flesh out its Surface devices, it’s been rewarded by Wall Street. Microsoft even made an effort to steal Apple’s thunder with its Surface Studio, a desktop geared toward the designers and professionals that Apple has always more or less had on lockdown. And then there’s Hololens, another bet on augmented reality that could help further cement its foothold in the enterprise.
You could argue, in Wall Street’s eyes, that 2016 was a year of continued investment in bets beyond the core original services that rocketed it to a massive technology company.
All of this is something that’s really palatable for investors: a strong growth story backed by a strong leader with a lot of momentum going into 2017. Its Azure cloud services continue to look like a strong business — much like the business that’s propped up Amazon and given Wall Street something to be really excited about — and its Office products continue to chug along as it’s expanded to more diverse platforms.
If you wanted any indication of the level of an about-face Microsoft is doing under Nadella, here’s one for you: it joined the Linux Foundation in November. Wall Street finally has a unique Microsoft under Nadella that’s willing to throw a lot of things against the wall and break tradition. While it’s acquiring quite a lot of risk with these strategies, it provides potential growth for a company that was once just simply an enterprise backbone that continued to generate cash.
Nadella took over Microsoft in the midst of a transition, and Microsoft is still somewhat in that transition. Its mobile bet didn’t play out and it’s started to refocus its resources to other parts of the business, and while all these bets still seem to be in their early stages, the arrow seems to point upwards. But like any company (even Google), these bets are going to take a while to play out. In reality, Microsoft’s revenue growth hasn’t really been all that impressive.
With all these bets comes a lot of…