For the 24th year, The Seattle Times ranks publicly traded companies based in Washington, Idaho and Oregon on key financial metrics for performance in 2014. In our countdown of the the top five companies, here's a profile of No. 1 Microsoft.
Technology is booming in the Northwest. And Microsoft, the anchor of the industry in Washington, is back on top.
The Redmond software company is No. 1 in The Seattle Times’ ranking of the top 100 publicly traded companies in the Northwest, returning to the top spot for the first time since the inception of the rankings series 24 years ago. Microsoft topped the charts in 1991 and again in 1992.
The company hasn’t exactly been stagnant since then, of course. Microsoft tacked on 110,000 employees and about $85 billion in sales, and physically reshaped the Puget Sound region with huge expansions of its Redmond campus and leases for much of Bellevue’s downtown skyline.
CEO: Satya Nadella
What it does: Creates software, services and hardware.
Employees: 128,000 (62,000 in U.S.)
Microsoft also extended its reach beyond its roots as a PC operating-system developer, building and buying the capacity to make networking and Web tools, server and database systems, a wide range of business applications, and hardware for video gaming, smartphones and tablet PCs.
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Microsoft’s return to the top of the Best of the Northwest report coincides with Wall Street’s renewed appreciation for the company.
The dot-com bust and U.S. and European antitrust investigations had tarnished Microsoft’s image, helping to trigger a decadelong sluggishness in the company’s share price. Meanwhile, the title of America’s most dynamic technology company migrated south to Silicon Valley rivals such as Google, Facebook and Apple.
But Microsoft’s fortunes have picked up with renewed momentum, especially in markets where the company sells products and services to big businesses and organizations.
After the early success Amazon.com had in getting businesses to pay for computing power and storage on servers in its data centers, Microsoft made its own big bet on cloud computing, spending billions of dollars to build similar capacity.
The company is pushing heavily for businesses to plug in to its Azure cloud computing platform, essentially the Web-based plumbing that can be used to run server software, websites and databases.
Microsoft executives in April laid out a goal that Microsoft’s package of business-focused Web services would grow to bring in $20 billion in sales on an annual basis by June 2018; the most recent rate was $6.3 billion a year.
That has helped Microsoft’s commercially focused businesses grow even as overall business spending on technology remained relatively flat. The shift to software sold as a Web subscription is also under way at Windows and Office, two products threatened by the proliferation of free-to-use alternatives.
Early last year, Microsoft got a cultural shock — and a wave of positive publicity — with the selection of Satya Nadella as the company’s third chief executive. The Indian-born software engineer took the helm in February 2014, and has preached a redefinition of the company’s mission toward building better productivity tools.
To some observers, that signaled an end to Microsoft’s occasional practice of “me too” products that scattered the company’s focus.
“Nadella gets it,” said Brent Thill, a software analyst with UBS. “He understands the value should be the applications and the infrastructure. He’s really changing the product architecture. And [Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood] is changing the culture around expenses and how they do things.”
Microsoft shares, bolstered by expensive and investor-friendly dividend and share-repurchase programs, gave investors a return on their investment of 27 percent last year as the stock price hit a 14-year peak.
The company brought in $86 billion in revenue during fiscal 2014, which ended in June a year ago, up 11 percent — thanks in part to the boost from the Nokia mobile- phone unit, which the company didn’t own a year earlier. The revenue growth and dividend, along with high marks for return on invested capital and cash generation, helped the company top the Best of the Northwest ranking.
Net profit was $22 billion, up a shade from $21.8 billion the previous fiscal year.
Nadella, in an interview, said the company’s reinvention is continuing. “What do you celebrate? Externally you celebrate market share, revenue, but that is work that happened five years ago.”
Internally? Nadella prefers to tout stories of the company’s products making a difference, whether it’s conference-call technology eliminating some business-meeting hassles or television white space Wi-Fi simplifying the delivery of Internet services to the developing world.
“I feel fantastic about the progress we’ve made,” he said. “But we’ve a lot more to do. A lot more.”