‘Playing cricket has taught me more about working in teams’
In Satya Nadella, Microsoft will not only get a 46-year old veteran with experience in running the company’s staple cloud and enterprise businesses, but also a man who remembers and has taken away lessons from his Indian roots.
Born in Hyderabad, India, his choice of sport was cricket, which he played competitively as a member of his school team.
“I think playing cricket taught me more about working in teams and leadership that has stayed with me throughout my career,” the new CEO said, in a company-wide memo to Microsoft’s employees.
After graduating from Hyderabad Public School, Mr. Nadella knew he wanted to build things and take up a course in computer science. As company lore has it, the computer science course wasn’t available at Manipal University, and Mr. Nadella was forced to get a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, which proved to be a great way for him to discover what would later become a “passion.”
Nevertheless, determined to make a mark in the world of software, he went onto to earn a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin and then a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago.
“I’m a learner,” Mr. Nadella said, in a recent interview to The Wall Street Journal. “I think the thing that I realized is, what excites me is that I'm learning something. I can learn something from people… 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.”
Though Mr. Nadella started his career as a member of the technology staff at Sun Microsystems, a company co-founded by Indian entrepreneur Vinod Khosla, he joined Microsoft in 1992 while still finishing his MBA.
“I used to fly to Chicago Friday nights, attend classes Saturdays, and come back to Redmond to work during the week,” he said in an interview at the time. It took him two-and-a-half years, but he finished his master’s degree.
As president of Microsoft’s server business, Mr. Nadella boosted revenue to $20.3 billion, up from $16.6 billion when he took over in 2011. That unit became cloud and enterprise when former CEO Steve Ballmer revamped Microsoft’s structure last July.
Before being named to lead the server unit, Mr. Nadella also held leadership roles in several different businesses within Microsoft, including Bing search engineering and technical strategy, and the company’s small business applications push.
In recent times, he has kept an eye on the moves of nimbler start-ups, and has pushed Microsoft executives to constantly monitor what people outside of Redmond are doing. At a technology conference in Paris in December, he spent time with local start-ups like video-on-demand company Video Future Entertainment Group SA.
According to a company profile, 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,” the profile quotes him as saying.
“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 of lines of poetry and you still get the essence, so it’s that compression.”
As Mr. Nadella takes over at this crucial juncture, he will be tasked with tying up loose ends such as the Nokia acquisition, turning Microsoft into a provider of services and hardware, and playing catch-up to the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon.
In his first e-mail as CEO to the company’s employees, Mr. Nadella has indicated that he’s more than up for the challenge. “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. And, as the new CEO, I can’t ask for a better foundation. Let’s build on this together.”