The deal expands the lineup of products and technologies Microsoft can offer especially business customers. For LinkedIn, it widens its reach and resources.
Microsoft has bounced from one ambition to another since helping establish the personal computer, a wandering journey that took the company from server tools to smartphones and video games.
In announcing a deal to buy LinkedIn, Microsoft is reaffirming that the company’s next act will be as a builder of software that makes other businesses tick.
Microsoft on Monday announced a deal to buy LinkedIn, the Mountain View, Calif., professional social-networking company, for $26.2 billion. The purchase price values LinkedIn’s shares at a 50 percent premium to their closing price Friday.
The acquisition, the largest by far in Microsoft’s history, adds to the company’s portfolio of business products the default résumé portal for information workers on the internet.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said LinkedIn fills a gap in the company’s office-productivity and sales-force tools. “How people find jobs, build skills, sell, market and get work done and ultimately find success requires a connected professional world,” he told employees in an email.
The deal, approved by both companies’ boards, is expected to close this year.
Microsoft said it plans to pay for LinkedIn primarily with new debt, avoiding the U.S. tax bill that would be triggered if the company used its ample cash hoard. The vast majority of its $105 billion in cash and short-term investments is held abroad and largely not exposed to U.S. corporate income taxes.
The surprise announcement was met by some arched eyebrows, a recognition of Microsoft’s history of big deals gone sour.
Microsoft is still sorting through the wreckage of the most recent — the $7.9 billion purchase of Nokia’s handset business. Two years after the deal, Microsoft has taken more than $10 billion in restructuring charges and writedowns and laid off the vast majority of the staff that came from Nokia.
Microsoft’s mixed record also extends to workplace-focused social networks. In 2012, it bought business social-networking site Yammer for $1.2 billion and, though it hasn’t led to a damaging writedown, that deal is viewed by some analysts as a waste of money.
On a conference call to discuss the LinkedIn deal, the first question Satya Nadella faced was about that history. Brent Thill, a financial analyst with UBS, asked, “Why is this deal different?”
In his answer, Nadella cited what he said was LinkedIn’s ability to bolster Microsoft’s services like Office and software for salespeople.
He also said Microsoft would let LinkedIn operate relatively independently. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is staying on in that role after the deal.
“Of course you’ll learn from the past,” Nadella said. The companies were aiming for “loosely coupled integration; this is not about changing the core of LinkedIn.”
For LinkedIn, the tie-up with Microsoft gives it a reach it couldn’t achieve on its own. Founded 14 months before Facebook, LinkedIn never reached the scale of its more social rival, and at times struggled to convert its trove of users and data into revenue.
LinkedIn lost $164 million on sales of $2.99 billion in 2015 and hasn’t been profitable on an annual basis since 2013. Revenue last year was up 34 percent from 2014.
Integrating data and LinkedIn links into many of Microsoft’s products may help boost the company to greater membership.
Perhaps more important, a merger could result in greater interest from corporate customers that use LinkedIn’s tools to find job candidates or manage their human-resources data, analysts say.
“Imagine a world where we’re no longer looking up at Tech Titans such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook, and wondering what it would be like to operate at their extraordinary scale — because we’re one of them,” Weiner said in an email to LinkedIn’s 10,000 employees Monday.
Weiner emphasized LinkedIn’s continued independence, assuring his team that the vast majority of their jobs would stay nearly exactly the same as they have been up to now.
For Microsoft, one of the big reasons to buy LinkedIn may be its data, said Jenny Sussin, an analyst with researcher Gartner. The $26.2 billion purchase price isn’t excessive when stacked against a network with 433 million members, and data that has become “incredibly valuable” to corporate human-resources organizations.
That data could also help Microsoft reach an overarching goal — understanding how people work and how its software can help them work better.
“Microsoft’s vision of work is one that is intelligent, and that intelligence is driven from a deep understanding of how people work, how they interact and how they make decisions,” said TJ Keitt, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. “In order to create that intelligence, Microsoft requires a corpus of how people work.”
In a presentation to investors Monday, Microsoft executives outlined how LinkedIn might fit within Microsoft’s range of software.
Microsoft’s Office suite has 1.2 billion users of programs from email to documents, but little social connective tissue between them. LinkedIn’s tools could fill that gap, becoming a default workplace profile.
In the presentation, Microsoft portrayed its Cortana digital personal assistant reminding someone about an upcoming meeting and pulling in data from LinkedIn to inform them of their shared connections or work history.
Among Microsoft’s first tasks is making LinkedIn more easily accessible in Microsoft’s slate of programs, Nadella told analysts. “One click away from your contacts, one click away in your email, one click away in your browser, one click away in Cortana, those are all things that we immediately hope to do.”
One of the most important pieces of the acquisition might be the effects on Microsoft customer-relationship management software, Dynamics. The integration could allow Dynamics users to easily see their connections and their current status, said Brian Paulen, a senior director at West Monroe Partners in Seattle.
The acquisition could help Microsoft get to the heart of the people doing work, not just how businesses interact.
“With something like LinkedIn, what they’re tapping into is not just the business artifacts, but also the broader perspective on the connections that people have,” Keitt said.
Microsoft shares fell 2.6 percent Monday, to $50.14. LinkedIn climbed 47 percent to $192.21.