Nadella departs from predecessor's practice, will do earnings call

'It does matter - big time,' says Wall Street analyst, of CEO participation

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, will participate in Thursday's quarterly earnings call, a departure from the company's past practice, when former chief executive Steve Ballmer rarely joined calls with Wall Street analysts.

Microsoft listed Nadella as a participant in a one-line announcement on its investor relations website. Geekwire first noticed, and reported on, the CEO's plan to join the call.

The change will put Microsoft in the same league as Apple, whose CEO Tim Cook regularly is on his company's earnings calls, and several other technology firms, like Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg), Hewlett-Packard (Meg Whitman) and Yahoo (Marissa Mayer).

Ballmer did not participate in any of Microsoft's earnings calls from January 2010 on, as far back as Computerworld researched.

Ballmer was not the only technology CEO who didn't bother with earnings reports. Before Steve Jobs stepped down as Apple CEO in 2011, he rarely participated in Apple's. Google CEO Larry Page also does not regularly take part in his firm's calls, nor does Ginni Rometty in IBM's.

The presence of the CEO on a call, however, does not necessarily mean more information. Apple's Cook, for example, never strays from the company's policy of not discussing future plans, although at times he alludes to them in the broadest terms, such as last year when he said that Apple had some "great stuff" and "amazing new hardware" through 2013's final quarters and into 2014, vague comments that one analyst said had "zero information content."

Still, a CEO's involvement means something.

"It does matter -- big time," said Brian Marshall, senior managing director at ISI International Strategy & Investment and a frequent participant on corporate earnings calls. "[It] basically tells the investment community and shareholders that they are important."

Nadella may be on the Microsoft call Thursday for that very reason. Not only is he new to the job -- he assumed the role Feb. 4 -- and so is still relatively unknown to Wall Street, but he has been busy describing his strategy for the company. The earnings call will give him another opportunity to make his case.

He could face some tough questions. While Microsoft shares have gained about 7% so far this year, the company must deal with a wealth of challenges and challengers as it pivots to Nadella's "mobile first, cloud first" strategy -- described as "devices and services" by his forerunner -- as it begins to digest Nokia's handset business, and tries to keep its Windows and Office divisions bringing in billions even as PC shipments contract.

Microsoft will hold its March quarter earnings call tomorrow starting at 2:30 p.m. PT (5:30 p.m. ET). The live audio stream can be accessed from Microsoft's website at that time.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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