Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella addresses the media during an event in New Delhi. Reuters

“Can Satya Nadella save Microsoft?” That’s the question asked in Vanity Fair's November profile of the Microsoft CEO. While he has a challenging road ahead of him, the path laid by former CEOs Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer up to that point has been an even bumpier one.

Unlike the 1990’s, where Microsoft dominated offices and accounted for 90 percent of devices in 2009, Nadella was left with a company struggling to find relevance in a world focused on cloud computing and mobile devices through Google and Apple products.

“What is scarce in all of this abundance is human attention,” Nadella told Vanity Fair “And whoever does the best job of building the right software experiences to give both organizations and individuals time back so that they can get more out of their time, that’s the core of this company -- that’s the soul.”

Prior to Microsoft’s current predicament, Ballmer was running the show during a time where the company saw a number of failures such as Windows Longhorn, which was retooled into Windows Vista, and another OS disaster that was Windows 8.

“The worst work I did was from 2001 to 2004,” Ballmer told Vanity Fair. “And the company paid a price for bad work. I put the A-team resources on Longhorn, not on phones or browsers. All our resources were tied up on the wrong thing.”

While Ballmer was Microsoft’s CEO from January 2000 to February 2014, the reality is he didn’t necessarily hold all of the power until Gates’ full departure from the company entirely in 2008. During that time, the two were often referred to as “Mom and Dad,” according to unnamed sources speaking to Vanity Fair, because no one really knew who was in charge.

But with Nadella’s time at CEO, that relationship may be different. Though Gates has returned to the company for only “30 percent” of this time, the former CEO and founder acknowledges that Nadella is running the show. “Satya runs the company, so he gets to decide,” Gates said to Vanity Fair.

But even then, Nadella acknowledged to Vanity Fair that having Gates back at Microsoft was a plus for the company:

“I mean, you’ve got to just accept the fact that the founder has a different class, a different status. And, quite honestly, I want to take advantage of that. . . . Because one of the first things it does for the people who show up to Bill’s office is they bring their A-game.”

While Nadella has found some favor with investors with his recent moves, including the $2.5 billion purchase of popular game franchise Minecraft, there are still questions about how his tenure as Microsoft CEO may shape up to be in the coming years. Some Microsoft employees have categorized him as the “safe pick,” who will keep the status quo, according to Microsoft sources speaking to Vanity Fair.

But it's not clear if even that will be the case in the future. Earlier this year, Microsoft cut 18,000 jobs as it looks to retool the company and consolidate its mobile division into Windows Phone.