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While the appointment of Microsoft Corp.’s new CEO Satya Nadella – only the third in the company’s history – got most of the headlines yesterday, the impact of the new chairman of the board shouldn’t be overlooked.

Former Symantec chief John Thompson has replaced Bill Gates at the head of the table, and while the post isn’t a full-time job and Nadella will have day to day charge of the company, industry analysts believe he’ll play a big role in positioning Microsoft’s strategy in the next fiew years.

I met Thompson a number of years ago on a Symantec press tour and found him an articulate and thoughtful executive.
In an interview with me today industry analyst Rob Enderle said Thompson’s major role will be mentoring Nadella. Thompson learned about mentoring from his years with IBM, Enderle said, where executives are taught that’s part of their skillset.
“He’ll help keep Satya from making mistakes as he learns the job of CEO – he’ll help him present well, he’ll help him balance the various hats you wear as a CEO far better. And help him move out of his old job, which is often a problem when somebody gets to be a CEO: they don’t really move out of their old job because that’s what they’ve been doing for a while. They want to go back and kibbutz, and you can’t do that as the CEO. You have to let whoever replaces you do that job.”
Despite Nadella’s lauded performance at Microsoft every first-time CEO needs a mentor, Enderle added. “You don’t have a manager like you used to have, self-promotion tends to backfire – you need to have other people promote you — you have to cheerlead the people you were competing with for the job. You need to fundamentally change everything you’ve learned about being an executive.”
Former CEO Steve Ballmer wasn’t well mentored, Enderle said – he held on to his old duties too long, didn’t expand well into areas chairman Bill Gates was interested in and didn’t handle financial analysts well either.
Enderle suspects Gates didn’t learn the lessons in part because for most of his working life he was Microsoft’s CEO.

One analyst quoted in SiliconValley.com said Thompson “should be exactly what Microsoft [Nasdaq: MSFT] needs at this time.”

He headed Symantec from 1999 to 2009, during which company revenue expanded to US$6.2 billion, although during his tenure he did oversee the acquisition of storage software maker Veritas. That deal was largely written off.

To read the full story click here.

Meanwhile there’s no shortage of advice for Nadella. eWeek has come up with 10 ways he should change the company

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