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Microsoft and LinkedIn: What the CEOs are planning

All about growth, culture and unique total addressable markets

The CEOs talk – Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn; Satya Nadella of Microsoft; and – who's he? Ah, the controlling stakeholder

"Remember that dystopian view of the future in which technology displaces millions of people from their jobs? It's happening."

So begins the less-than-cheery explanation of the huge $26.2bn acquisition of LinkedIn to staff by its CEO Jeff Weiner.

Weiner appears to recognize that for many of his employees, being acquired by Microsoft is a dystopia. "You might feel a sense of excitement, fear, sadness, or some combination of all of those emotions," he coaches them in a company-wide email.

"Every member of the exec team has experienced the same, but we've had months to process. Regardless of the ups and downs, we've come out the other side knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is the best thing for our company."

It's certainly the best thing from a financial perspective: Microsoft is paying what LinkedIn used to be worth before it posted disappointing results and the markets decided to be more realistic about the tech sector at the start of the year. The 49.5 per cent price premium for shares that Microsoft has offered would have been a 1 per cent cut on the share price just five months ago when negotiations started.

But one person's nightmare is another's financial opportunity, Weiner notes: "Whether it's worker displacement, the skills gap, youth unemployment, or socio-economic stratification, the impact on society will be staggering. I've said it on multiple occasions and believe it even more so every day: creating economic opportunity will be the defining issue of our time."

Culture wars

Weiner also addressed the one other big concern on his staff's mind: being subjected to the Microsoft culture. He assures them, with apparent belief, that the company will remain independent of the Beast of Redmond.

Outlining the acquisition talks he and Microsoft SEO Satya Nadella had over LinkedIn, Weiner notes: "His vision was to operate LinkedIn as a fully independent entity within Microsoft, a model used with great success by companies like YouTube, Instagram and WhatsApp. I would remain as CEO and report directly to him instead of a board ... We would partner on how best to leverage this extraordinary combination of assets while pursuing a shared mission."

Just a few paragraphs later, however, he argues: "We have the same mission and vision; we have the same culture and values; and I'm still the CEO of LinkedIn."

As for the impact on staff – the only people leaving will be "those members of the team whose jobs are entirely focused on maintaining LinkedIn's status as a publicly traded company." For everyone else "little is expected to change: you'll have the same title, the same manager, and the same role you currently have." And that is possible "given our ability to operate independently."

Nadella

Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella takes a slightly different approach in his note to staff: it's less a personal note reassuring employees that the end of the world is not nigh and more about painting the Nadella vision.

"We are in pursuit of a common mission centered on empowering people and organizations. Along with the new growth in our Office 365 commercial and Dynamics businesses, this deal is key to our bold ambition to reinvent productivity and business processes," he wrote.

"Think about it: How people find jobs, build skills, sell, market and get work done and ultimately find success requires a connected professional world."

In Nadella's view, the deal will allow LinkedIn to be what it always wanted to be. Microsoft is saving the company: "Jeff and I both believe we have a significant opportunity to accelerate LinkedIn's growth and the value it brings to its members with Microsoft's assets and scale. In fact, when Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, and I spoke about the opportunity for us to come together, he called it a 're-founding' moment for LinkedIn and an opportunity to reach the mission the company set out on 13 years ago."

He continues, also addressing culture and independence concerns: "A big part of this deal is accelerating LinkedIn's growth. To that end, LinkedIn will retain its distinct brand and independence, as well as their culture, which is very much aligned with ours. Jeff will continue to be CEO of LinkedIn, he'll report to me and join our senior leadership team."

Business

As to the hard business of business, Microsoft has published a high-level presentation [PDF] over what it intends to get out of the deal with the very-Microsoft title: "World's Leading Professional Cloud + World's Leading Professional Network."

The two CEOs have even put out a quick video in which they talk, vaguely and without any real useful purpose, about their goals:

Youtube Video

The upshot is that Microsoft intends to integrate LinkedIn's main products with Microsoft's. The two companies are "highly complementary" according to the presentation, since they "participate in unique total addressable markets (TAM)." And talking of TAM, the coupling will mean more TAM for everyone. In fact, 58 percent more TAM.

In real terms, Microsoft believes it is buying both a Facebook and a Salesforce with the deal. Its vision is to create an all-encompassing user profile that includes their documents, their contacts, email and Skype, all in one package.

It will provide new advertising opportunities, greater business and industry insights, and a new level of integrated CRM (customer relationship management). Plus, Microsoft is pitching that the relatively new LinkedIn news feed will be "the place to go for every professional to stay connected with the happenings in their network, industry and profession."

It's a compelling vision, but then so was Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia. And Skype.

And in case you're wondering who the big guy is in the official photo of the announcement, on the right alongside the two CEOs: that's Reid Hoffman.

Why is Mr Hoffman there? Because he's Chairman of the Board, but more importantly, he's the controlling shareholder of LinkedIn. Without him, no deal. And with this deal, he just became a very, very rich man.

The deal in numbers

  • 91: The multiple of earnings that Microsoft has offered to acquire LinkedIn. It's very high.
  • 60.51: The amount in dollars Microsoft will be paying per LinkedIn user.
  • 49.5: The percentage premium on LinkedIn shares.
  • 196: The per-share dollar offering.
  • 198: LinkedIn share value on January 29, 2016.

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