As Satya Nadella becomes the third CEO of Microsoft, he brings a relentless drive for innovation and a spirit of collaboration to his new role.
Joining Microsoft 22 years ago because he saw how clearly Microsoft empowers people to do magical things and ultimately make the world a better place.
Many companies, he says, “aspire to change the world. But very few have all the elements required: talent, resources and perseverance. Microsoft has proven that it has all three in abundance.”
With a perspective based on more than two decades at Microsoft as someone who pushed to make dynamic changes happen, both in the company’s products and its culture, Satya Nadella says he is both “honored and humbled” to succeed Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer as the third CEO of Microsoft.
“Our industry does not respect tradition - it only respects innovation,” he says. “The opportunity ahead for Microsoft is vast, but to seize it, we must move faster, focus and continue to transform. I see a big part of my job as accelerating our ability to bring innovative products to our customers more quickly.”
Nadella, 46, was born in Hyderabad, India. Growing up, playing cricket was his “passion,” and he played it competitively as a member of his school’s team. “I think playing cricket taught me more about working in teams and leadership that has stayed with me throughout my career.”
Nadella “always wanted to build things,” he says. He knew that computer science was what he wanted to pursue. But that emphasis was not available when he attended Mangalore University in India, where he got a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. “And so it was a great way for me to go discover what turned out to become a passion,” he says.
He went on to earn a master's degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, then a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago.
“I’m a learner,” Nadella says. “I think the thing that I realized is, what excites me is that I'm learning something. I can learn something about some area. I can learn something from people. I can learn something from doing things differently. And I admire that in other people, too.
"I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things … you stop doing great and useful things. So family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge all define me.”
He often signs up for online courses, “just crazy ambitions in the 15 minutes I have in the morning. You know, I'm trying to listen to a neuroscience class or something. I kind of ask myself, why are you doing it? But I love it.”
He started his career as a member of the technology staff at Sun Microsystems. In 1992, he joined Microsoft. He was on his way to get a master’s degree in business when the Microsoft job offer came. The company was building an operating system that ultimately would be known as Windows NT, and needed team members who understood UNIX and 32-bit operating systems, he says. Nadella wanted to complete his master’s degree and take the Microsoft job. He did both.
“I used to fly to Chicago Friday nights, attend classes Saturdays and come back to Redmond to work during the week.” It took him two-and-a-half years, but he finished his master’s degree.
Microsoft’s new CEO finds relaxation by reading poetry, in all forms and by poets who are both Indian and American. “It’s like code,” he says. “You’re trying to take something that can be described in many, many sentences and pages of prose, but you can convert it into a couple lines of poetry and you still get the essence, so it’s that compression.” Indeed, he says, the best code is poetry.
He also enjoys watching Test cricket, “which is the longest form of any sport in the world,” with games that can go for days and days. “I love it,” he says. “There’s so many subplots in it, it’s like reading a Russian novel.”
“One of the things that perhaps excites me the most is when I come across something at work, whether it’s somebody who’s really done a great feature in software, come up with a fantastic idea in pricing or done a great customer program, or just an approach to their job that is innovative or brought teams together - and I just, wow, I marvel every day at how people can excel – and that’s what really gets me going.”
He came to Microsoft, he told employees in an email, “for the same reason I think most people join Microsoft – to change the world through technology that empowers people to do amazing things.
“Many companies aspire to change the world. But very few have all the elements required: talent, resources and perseverance. Microsoft has proven that it has all three in abundance.”