Former Microsoft CEO says Windows 10 universal apps “won’t work,” questions …

3 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Diversity is focus of Microsoft shareholders meeting.

The annual shareholders meeting hears a discussion of diversity, meets the two women who are new board members and sees results of a symbolic vote on executive pay. Last month The Verge reported that Project Astoria, Microsoft’s plan to bring Android apps to its Windows 10 Mobile platform, has been put on hold, but it seems one notable figure from the company’s recent history would disagree with that decision.SAN FRANCISCO — While Microsoft’s annual shareholder meeting Wednesday was largely a platform for executives to repeat the company’s mobile- and cloud-first mantra, the lengthy question and answer session that followed dove into the thorny topics of racism and ageism.At Microsoft’s annual shareholding conference today, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella cited diversity progress in relation to the executive team and board of directors.

Jesse Jackson again opened the question-and-answer portion of the event, asking the company to keep up its pressure to make its workforce look more like the customer base. “Microsoft can lead,” he said, praising its programs that promote diversity among its suppliers and in its financial operations. The audience member was asking Nadella about what Microsoft plans to do about its lack of support for important mobile apps like Starbucks, according to Bloomberg. Nadella cited the company’s effort to get developers to create universal apps across PC, mobile, and Xbox, but Ballmer said “That won’t work.” Instead, Windows phones need to be able to “run Android apps,” he reportedly said.

Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella thanked Jackson for his comments and listed some areas where the company had made progress since visiting with the civil-rights leader a year ago, including increasing the proportion of blacks and Hispanics in its executive ranks and courting a more diverse pool of university candidates. He and Nadella met privately with Jackson on Tuesday. “It’s not just about words, it’s robust action and having a rich dialog about having a culture of inclusiveness,” agreed Nadella during the meeting, which was webcast. Jesse Jackson, a tireless advocate of diversity and inclusion in tech, agrees that Microsoft could do a lot better. “We now urge Microsoft to actively seek out qualified Blacks and Latinos for your next appointments, and want to work with you to identify Board leaders for the future,” Jackson said at the shareholders meeting. This all may seem a little rich coming from the man who presided over Microsoft’s mobile foundering with an extreme reluctance to embrace other platforms — it’s certainly easier for him to take this position now. Last year, across the tech industry, there were only three black people and one Hispanic person sitting on the boards of directors at 20 major tech companies, according to a survey by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

During the brief business end of Microsoft’s annual meeting, shareholders approved the board’s 11 director nominees, with each receiving more than 93 percent of the votes cast. But with more and more high-profile apps actually leaving the Windows Store altogether, it’s clear that Microsoft needs a credible app strategy if its latest mobile initiative is to gain any ground at all. Referring to the private conversation he had with the civil rights leader earlier, Nadella said he would look into new areas suggested by Jackson, specifically ethnic representation in advertising as well as allocation of more corporate resources to reach those in the inner city.

In September, Nadella announced Microsoft would spend $75 million over the next three years to get kids interested in technology through the TEALS program, Technology Education and Literacy in Schools. It’s sort of a key metric — if they talk about it as key to the company, they should report it.” Microsoft posts its cloud business figures as an extrapolated rate for the year, but Ballmer is said to believe that more disclosure is needed because the margins for cloud services are lower than Microsoft’s traditional software products. “We enjoy a regular dialogue with Steve, and welcome his input and feedback, as we do from our other investors,” Chris Suh, Microsoft’s general manager for investor relations, said in a statement. On the day’s other major shareholder vote, a symbolic ratification of the company’s executive-compensation packages, Microsoft again received some disapproval from its investors.

He said he was impressed that the four executives on stage at the meeting included one African-American (Thompson), one female (CFO Amy Hood), one Asian (Nadella) and one white (president Brad Smith). We will continue the PUSH for real change, and insist that companies set measurable goals, targets and timetables to move the needle.” Nadella responded saying that Microsoft is “very focused” on diversity, and cited the unconscious bias training it has deployed to over 100,000 employees, the diversity of Microsoft’s supplier programs, and accelerator programs to reach minority entrepreneurs.

Three-quarters of companies obtain approval rates of 90 percent or more, according to data compiled by executive-compensation consultant Semler Brossy. Microsoft’s stock (MSFT) has made progress over the calendar year as well, starting at $48, dropping a few times to a low of $40 and currently flirting with $55, giving the company a market cap of $438 billion, third among public tech companies behind Alphabet (formerly Google, $527 billion) and top-seed Apple ($654 billion). Analysts say Microsoft’s relatively low approval rate stems, in part, from concerns over a massive long-term stock grant awarded to Nadella after the chief executive was promoted in February 2014.

The shareholders who followed Jackson touched on a range of topics, from why Microsoft had cut a particular program that compensated college students for being product-advocates on campus to borderline tech-help questions about how to use a smartphone to access television content. One particularly tense exchange was between a Chinese-American shareholder who started by asking why there weren’t any Chinese board members but concluded by called Smith a “hoodlum” for allegedly asking Microsoft campus police to ban her from the premises after she tried to visit the company’s executives. Other executives that year received generous stock grants as compensation for remaining at the company through the CEO transition that led to Nadella’s selection. Are there any games for people 50-plus (age group)?” Nadella’s response: “Well, I’m close to 50 (he’s 48), and I love (the video game) Halo.” The questioner immediately countered: “You gotta appeal to us longer-livers.” Nadella allowed then that “this is a very important topic, we have people of all ages at Microsoft. And in a nod to shareholder concerns, the board in its materials emphasized a shift in its pay practices to awarding executives based on their own and the company’s performance.

But when I look at product design, the most important thing is that it’s universal, and not geared to one population or another.” The beginning of the meeting featured presentations by key leadership members. At Wednesday’s meeting, questions from the audience focused on other issues of diversity, including a woman who asked about the company’s consideration of visually impaired people for board seats. Thompson noted that Microsoft’s three-fold mission is to “reinvent business productivity, grow the intelligent cloud and encourage more personal computing.” Hood reiterated the company’s goal of having its new Windows 10 operating system on 1 billion devices by 2018, and reaching $20 billion for its annualized cloud revenue run rate by the same year (it was $8.2 billion this year).

One shareholder, Ken Copley, of West Des Moines, Iowa, made the trip to ask executives if Microsoft, having largely lost the smartphone market to Google and Apple, intended to mount a stiffer challenge for devices linking the home.

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