Let's spare a thought for the '18,000'

21st July 2014
Let's spare a thought for the  '18,000'
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addresses staff at the company headquarters in Redmond, on July 10 2014 ( Microsoft photo)

A personal  lament for those  who  will soon  be part of  Microsoft's 'cull' -- most of them ex-Nokia employees

IndiaTechOnline Special
By Anand Parthasarathy

Bangalore July 21 2014: Microsoft's announced decision to  cull its  crop of technologists by  18,000 -- the largest in its history --   attracted   shock-horror  headlines  in India's business newspapers -- but for the wrong reasons.  
Let's face it:  Signaling a  smack of new purpose by   announcing a large reduction in the workforce,  is almost a  rite of passage these days,  for  new  heads  of  large corporations. They have to  show shareholders that they  are made of sterner stuff than the  ones they replaced.  It's not downsizing, stupid! It's called "rightsizing",  to use the cynical and cruel euphemism   dreamed up corporate communication whizzkids -- another  swipe at one's  predecessors,  an implied  hint that things were wrong  till   the new wonder took over to make things right.
In Microsoft's case,  seasoned  watchers  were already predicting an operation chop-chop,  a full week before  CEO Satya Nadella  sent out his  email  to staff,  at the crack of dawn on July 17,  titled  "Starting to Evolve our Organization and Culture". 
On July 10 he sent out another -- much longer -- mail -- "Starting FY15 - Bold Ambition & Our Core", which spelt out his vision for what he called  a "mobile-first and cloud-first world". Those adept at reading between lines, predicted that  this vision  left unstated some redundant portions of  the vision that Satya inherited -- and   was clearly about to jetisson.
 Last week it became clear that   the bulk of pink slips that are to be doled out over the next six months were reserved for  ex-Nokia employees -- some 12,500 of the 18,000 -- almost  70 percent.   This again is par  for the course. When  one corporation acquires another, there will be   many instances of talent duplication and functional  overlap.  To the conqueror goes the spoils  -- and  where two employees are seen to be doing the same job,  it is easier to 'let go' the one from the acquired, rather  than the acquirer.
The task is made simpler when the titular head of the acquired entity   plays His Master's Voice and publicly endorses the cull: in this case Vice President Stephen Elop's own email  which makes it clear: . "Our device strategy must reflect Microsoft’s strategy.... (of) making the market for Windows Phone ... by shifting select future Nokia X designs and products to Windows Phone devices"
Let me remind readers  that the Nokia X phones, launched as recently as  in February in this year, were cheaper  handsets running Android,  rather than   the Windows OS   which fuelled the flagship Lumia series  of phones.  X series phones, of which three were launched in Indi, were affordable smartphones, around Rs 10,000.  Now Microsoft's intention to kill  Nokia's Android phones and  switch them to  Windows  is out in the open.  All  those associated in its development and manufacture  are probably  assured  an early  place in the departure schedule. 
One might think a phone like  Nokia X series,   targeted at emerging economies markets,  might have been developed in India. This does not seem to be  the case: the phone has its origins in China, I understand; so we may not see too many ex-Nokia  Indian employees   of Microsoft,  losing their jobs -- at least on this score.  
As for  redundancies in the manufacturing side,   Nokia's  India plant in Sriperumbudur  is  already a right royal mess  -- though not through any fault of the company.  It is caught in a chakravyuha or maze of   bureaucratic   regulations that are a legacy of the previous Indian government  and to all intents and  purposes, the  Sriperumbudur  manufacturing unit is a  closed  entity.  I have visited the  factory -- a  beautiful, automated plant which imparted skills and gainful employment to thousands.  What a waste of  resources! But that is another story.

Nokia  may be  the prime focus of the staff cuts at Microsoft,  but  other  projects of the parent company  -- like the user interface called McLaren and a content creation unit for XBox -- are being talked about as doomed.  McLaren, in particular was being watched with great interest by  geeks since it promised  to equip a future Lumia phone with a combo of gesture and  3D technology.  It's still early days to  say if  this  technology will surface in another form.
I think it is worth remembering, finally, that   the 12,500  ex-Nokia  employees who  are  due to be unemployed very shortly, represent almost half the strength  of  the  Nokia devices and services divisions that Microsoft acquired for  $ 7 billion. Even by the ruthless  standards of  global corporations, that is    very drastic  'rightsizing'.  
Companies buy  other companies  -- and  their  richest resource -- their human capital -- is the first casualty.