Microsoft missed the mobile wave. Now Satya Nadella says he’s going to spend a ton of money to help it keep up in the services business.
The Microsoft CEO is buying LinkedIn, the professional social network, for $26.2 billion, or $196 a share, in an all-cash deal.
The acquisition, the largest in Nadella’s tenure, will be "key to our bold ambition to reinvent productivity and business processes," he wrote in a letter to Microsoft employees.
It is also an admission by LinkedIn’s management that the company wasn’t going to be able to convince Wall Street of its value. In 2015, LinkedIn shares had climbed as high as $269, but since then they have tumbled as investors have become more skeptical about most cloud-based businesses. LinkedIn was trading at $131 prior to this morning’s announcement.
For Microsoft, a big part of the deal is about being at the center of the business worker’s world.
While it has ceded the personal social graph to Facebook and others, it sees being at the center of the worker’s world as too important to miss. Microsoft had hoped its SharePoint would be the social hub for business, but has seen a lot of momentum in that area shift to Slack. Microsoft also bought Yammer, an enterprise social collaboration company, for $1.2 billion in 2012, but that acquisition has essentially gone nowhere.
LinkedIn’s know-how is also important for Cortana and its broader artificial intelligence aspirations. With this purchase, Microsoft is basically buying the company org chart for the whole world, which on its face seems a pretty good layer of data to build into any business-focused cloud product, from email to enhancing a customer relationship software to recruiting new employees.
"Microsoft wanted to get into human resources without having to get into payrolls," said Ray Wang, an analyst with Constellation Research.
The deal should close this year, the companies said, with LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner remaining head of that unit and joining Microsoft’s senior leadership team.
Microsoft has been on the hunt for a large acquisition in the enterprise cloud space for more than a year. Last April, Microsoft and Salesforce held "serious talks" that ended when the two parties couldn’t agree on a price. Microsoft had contemplated a bid of $55 billion while Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at the time was said to be holding out for a price closer to $70 billion, too rich even for Microsoft.
As for how Microsoft brings the two businesses together, the company could add parts of LinkedIn to its already healthy and growing Office 365 subscription business, while keeping the premium service as a standalone option.
LinkedIn’s knowledge about workers also could be a fit with Dynamics, the part of Microsoft’s business that competes with Salesforce. In its slide deck on the deal, Microsoft pitches the knowledge that LinkedIn complements what its services know about businesses through corporate data.
LinkedIn had in recent months gone from one of the most highly valued internet companies to a potential takeover target for a large buyer after it badly missed estimates when it reported fourth quarter earnings in February and issued weak guidance for the coming year. Its shares fell by 43 percent the following day and its market valuation fell by more than $14 billion along with it.
For weeks, markets treated the shares of cloud software companies like Salesforce, Workday and others as if their prospects had soured along with LinkedIn's. Over the course of several days in February, the value of an index of publicly held cloud software companies as tracked by Bessemer Venture Partners fell by $66 billion. The declines spilled over into private markets where cloud-based startups seeking new venture capital investments had to lower the terms they could realistically expect from investors.
Weiner spoke with Kara Swisher on Recode Decode last year:
And LinkedIn Executive Editor Daniel Roth joined Peter Kafka and others onstage at Code/Media earlier this year.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.