Satya Nadella: Reshaping Microsoft and the Future of Technology

Satya Nadella: Reshaping Microsoft and the Future of Technology

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In 2014, Microsoft was struggling. Windows 8, which aimed to combine the worlds of desktop, tablet, and mobile computing, had failed to catch on with consumers, and the company’s culture inspired competition between employees for supremacy, weakening morale. With competitors Apple and Google staking their claims in the world of personal computing, Microsoft’s future looked bleak. That year, legendary CEO Steve Ballmer retired, to be replaced by Indian-American business executive Satya Nadella, who had a radically different vision for the company. Nadella recognized the troubling path to irrelevance Microsoft was heading towards, and vowed to change course. Though his executive decisions have inspired criticism, time has shown that under Nadella’s leadership Microsoft is poised to once again dominate the industry with a suite of innovative, useful products and services.

Nadella’s path to the role of CEO started with his childhood in India. His father, Bukkapuram Nadella Yugandher, worked at Indian Administrative Service of the Government of India as a civil servant and his mother was a professor who studied the ancient language Sanskrit. Born in 1967 in Hyderabad, India, Nadella spent his childhood playing cricket, aspiring to become a professional cricket player. But the young Nadella quickly found that his passion for science and technology took over his athletic dreams, and so he studied electrical engineering at the Manipal Institute of Technology. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1988, Nadella wanted to study computer science, so he travelled to the United States and attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, earning a master’s degree in the subject in 1990. He worked for Sun Microsystems for a few years before joining Microsoft in 1992, when founder Bill Gates was still CEO and Windows had begun to take over the world of computer operating systems.

At Microsoft, Nadella was one of only around 30 Indian immigrants employed by the company.

At Microsoft, Nadella was one of only around 30 Indian immigrants employed by the company, where he worked on an interactive TV program and the Windows NT operating system. During this time, Nadella married his wife, Anu, who still lived in India, and had to give up his American citizen status to take advantage of a loophole in immigration law that allowed his wife to move to America to live with him. Additionally, Nadella impressed his coworkers at Microsoft by commuting on the weekends to the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business to finish his MBA, graduating in 1997. Nadella gradually took on more of a leadership role at the company, landing a role as vice president of Microsoft bCentral, a collection of web services for small businesses including email and website-hosting. 

In 2000, Gates stepped down as CEO to be replaced by Steve Ballmer, who oversaw a shift away from the company’s PC-focused heritage towards other forms of computing. During this time, Nadella continued to rise in the ranks at Microsoft, becoming the corporate VP of Microsoft Business Solutions in 2001. In 2007, Nadella became senior VP of Microsoft Online Services, which oversaw the company’s Bing search engine as well as the Xbox Live gaming service and the online components of Microsoft Office. While Nadella continued to rise in the ranks, becoming the president of the Server and Tools division, Ballmer faced increasing criticism both for his management style and for the failure of the company’s flagship services, Bing, Windows Phone, and Windows 8. It was under this pressure that Ballmer stepped down, and the decision was made for Satya Nadella to take over his role.

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Instead of trying to dominate the mobile space with its own operating system as it had previously done on PC, Microsoft took a more collaborative approach with its competitors.

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Under Nadella, the company’s direction changed to embrace consumers’ preferences for a wide range of computing platforms. Instead of trying to dominate the mobile space with its own operating system as it had previously done on PC, Microsoft took a more collaborative approach with its competitors. The company made its Microsoft Office suite of products available on Apple and Android devices, and embraced the rival operating system Linux on its Microsoft Azure service. Additionally, Nadella oversaw Microsoft’s $2.5 billion purchase of Mojang, the studio that made the extraordinarily popular Minecraft, as well as the launch of Windows 10 and the Surface Book, the company’s first laptop. Nadella’s business philosophy has focused on the importance of partnership with other companies, marking a departure from the isolationist stance of predecessors Gates and Ballmer.

Nadella also led an effort to reshape the Microsoft’s culture to improve employee satisfaction; one of his first acts as CEO was to lay off much of the company’s middle management, flattening the organization’s structure. Under Nadella, Microsoft emphasizes the importance of learning from one’s mistakes as a strategy for improving employee productivity, and the company revised its mission statement to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” Nadella’s leadership style has been well-received among employees, who credit him for giving them the room to grow in their professional lives by forgiving mistakes and encouraging learning. Under Nadella, Microsoft reversed its downward trajectory, even overtaking its largest competitor Apple in valuation. The company’s future looks bright, as Windows 10 has been called the company’s best operating system yet and the impressive and potentially-revolutionary Surface Duo and Neo devices were recently announced, for release in holiday 2020.