Microsoft said Tuesday that its board of directors named Satya Nadella chief executive officer and a director, making him just the third person to lead the tech giant.

The 46-year-old Nadella, who has worked for the company for more than 20 years, previously served as executive vice president of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise group.

"During this time of transformation, there is no better person to lead Microsoft than Satya Nadella," Bill Gates, Microsoft's founder and a member of the board of directors, said.

"Satya is a proven leader with hard-core engineering skills, business vision and the ability to bring people together. His vision for how technology will be used and experienced around the world is exactly what Microsoft needs as the company enters its next chapter of expanded product innovation and growth," Gates said.

Gates is stepping down as chairman of the board and will take on the role of technology adviser while remaining a director.

John Thompson will be the new chairman of the Microsoft board, the company said.

"Satya is clearly the best person to lead Microsoft, and he has the unanimous support of our board," Thompson said. "The board took the thoughtful approach that our shareholders, customers, partners and employees expected and deserved."

Microsoft began searching for a new CEO in August, when Steve Ballmer announced plans to retire in a year or as soon as his replacement was found.

Ballmer's decision to step down as CEO was a surprise since he had said that he planned to stay at the company's helm until his children started college, which will not happen until 2017 at the earliest.

Ballmer left the CEO post on Tuesday and Nadella took over immediately. EFE