The much-publicized appointment of LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman to Microsoft Corp.’s board of directors on Tuesday represents a necessary step for the Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant, experts say.
According to R. “Ray” Wang, principal analyst and founder of Silicon Valley-based Constellation Research Inc., Hoffman is much better connected to the industry’s core culture in Silicon Valley than Microsoft has traditionally been, a factor that will become increasingly more important as the company increasingly focuses on enterprise-facing products such as Azure and the newly released Microsoft Teams sees it competing head to head with the likes of Salesforce.com and Slack for talent and ideas.
“Reid is the master conduit into the valley and more importantly a deep strategic thinker,” Wang told ITBusiness.ca. “As Microsoft has improved its ethical standing and overall branding, Reid’s entrance comes at the right time.”
In a March 14 post for Wired subsidiary Backchannel, editorial head Jessi Hempel noted that Hoffman’s appointment was announced three years after the company appointed Satya Nadella as CEO, beginning a turnaround many in the industry thought unlikely at the time.
“[Microsoft] had a lousy reputation, particularly in Silicon Valley, where camaraderie and collaboration are hallmarks of tech’s evolution and every major player enjoys frenemy status with its adversaries,” she wrote. “Microsoft wasn’t a company that partnered with outsiders. It scorned the open-source community and looked down its nose at tech upstarts.”
Hoffman, on the other hand, is considered the “quintessential nice guy,” she wrote, capable of reaching the ear of just about anyone in Silicon Valley at a moment’s notice.
In a March 14 statement, Microsoft chair John W. Thompson acknowledged that Hoffman’s appointment represented an opportunity to bring “fresh thinking and new perspectives” to the company’s board, while Nadella himself said that Microsoft was looking forward Hoffman’s guidance when planning its future.
“I’ve long admired Reid’s ability to identify disruptive technologies and the passion we share for how digital platforms can create new opportunity for people around the world,” Nadella said in the March 14 statement. “As a board member, Reid’s leadership and strategic perspective will help chart the future of our company as we aim to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”
Though he remains best-known for cofounding LinkedIn in 2002, for the past seven years Hoffman has served as a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Greylock Partners. He also serves on the boards of Edmodo, Convoy Technologies, and Blockstream, and on several not-for-profit boards, such as microfinancier Kiva.org.
Adding Hoffman expands Microsoft’s board to 12 members. Other high-profile members include Nadella, former Bank of America vice chair Charles H. Noski, Johnson & Johnson executive vice president Sandra E. Peterson, Gap Inc. CFO Teri List-Stoll, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.