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Satya Nadella | The man who rebuilt Microsoft

In his book Hit Refresh, Satya Nadella, the Microsoft CEO, reminisces about his first day in that role, way back in early 2014. “If there was any one theme I wanted to emphasize that day,” he writes, “it was that we must discover what would be lost in the world if Microsoft just disappeared.” The man who is just the third CEO in Microsoft’s history then writes, “We had to answer for ourselves, what is the company about? Why do we exist? I told them it was time for us to rediscover our soul — what makes us unique.”

More than seven years later, Mr. Nadella has now been given the opportunity to shape Microsoft’s vision as its chairman as well. He will be only the third chairman in the company’s 46-year history, and will be only the second, after its iconic co-founder Bill Gates, to hold the positions of chairman and CEO at the same time.

When Mr. Nadella took over as CEO in 2014, Microsoft was seen as a company whose best years were behind it. Toward the end of his predecessor Steve Ballmer’s term, pressure was mounting on the company to come up with a roadmap that would place it among the most dominant technology companies once again. This was a time when Microsoft was struggling to shape a future that moved away from its dependence on the Windows operating system, which served it well during the years of the personal computer boom. Times had, however, changed.

In the years leading up to 2014, as the world adopted mobile devices in a big way, Microsoft struggled to make a success of its new ideas and ventures. Its forays into mobile devices, for instance, were a failure. The stock price reflected its state and was largely stagnant for a long time.

In the seven years since taking over, Mr. Nadella has been widely acknowledged for the revival of Microsoft’s fortunes. It is once again one of the most valuable companies in the world today. According to current prices, it is in fact No. 2 in terms of market capitalisation just behind Apple and just ahead of Amazon. Its market capitalisation is in striking distance of $2 trillion. What Mr. Nadella did was not just move away from the Windows past but also build and fund future business such as cloud computing. Two years ago, a Bloomberg Businessweek article, with the title ‘The Most Valuable Company (for Now) Is Having a Nadellaissance’, wrote: “Under Nadella, it cut funding to Windows and built an enormous cloud computing business — with about $34 billion in revenue over the past year — putting it ahead of Google and making progress in key areas against the dominant player, Amazon Web Services”. In fact, the article says, “His first email to employees ran more than 1,000 words — and made no mention of Windows.”

A marathon

The Hyderabad-born Mr. Nadella once said in a Stanford GSB event, “My father was a Marxist economist and civil servant... He looked at my grades and was amazed someone could be so bad! But he said, ‘It’s a marathon. You’ll catch up.’ My mother’s only question to me was ‘Are you happy?’” He got his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Mangalore University, and then did his MS in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He also has an MBA degree from the University of Chicago. Mr. Nadella, who grew up wanting to be a professional cricketer, now uses analogies from the sport he loves liberally to make sense of real-life situations. He also spoken quite a bit in recent years about how the disability of his son profoundly impacted his ideas of leadership.

As CEO, Mr. Nadella had to take tough decisions, one of which was the writing off of the over $7 billion acquisition of Nokia’s handset business, leading to thousands of job cuts. He also put more money in growing businesses such as cloud computing, and also led big-ticket acquisitions such as those of LinkedIn, Nuance and GitHub. He reorganised the company and made sure its products were compatible with products and devices from other stables.

This was in line with what he had put in a memo to the board, before he was picked as CEO. He had bet on a plan toward a “renewal of Microsoft”. This was to cater to a world where “humans will interact with experiences that span a multitude of devices and senses.” The success of the plan has put Mr. Nadella at the top-most position of a company he joined 29 years ago.

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 12:09:44 PM |

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