A few months after Microsoft’s board named Satya Nadella CEO of the company in 2014, Nadella sent a 3,100-word memo to the tech giant’s employees describing what he saw as Microsoft’s “soul” and “unique core.” “Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world,” he wrote. “We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.”
Nadella’s vision of the soul of Microsoft, which has been crucial to the company’s revival over the past few years, is what makes his decision to pursue an acquisition of TikTok in the U.S. and other countries so puzzling. Despite its many charms as a source of entertainment—or maybe because of them—TikTok is on no one’s list of great productivity apps. While it’s true that Nadella said in his memo that there was room enough inside Microsoft for consumer businesses like Xbox, buying a big chunk of TikTok would significantly escalate the company’s investments outside its core.
Perhaps Nadella believes times have changed and will soon describe a new vision for Microsoft’s soul. Or maybe he will make the case that TikTok fits into his productivity-centric vision for Microsoft. One risk, though, is that Microsoft is simply losing focus. That is a habit that led the company into trouble in the past.—Nick Wingfield