satya nadella flickr

Satya Nadella has gained plenty of admiration for the way he has steered Microsoft since taking over as CEO in 2014. Of course, he has also received criticism. Nadella’s move to a cloud first model has allowed Microsoft to recover from a slump. However, some accuse the CEO of ignoring other parts of the company, especially Windows 10 Model.

During an extensive interview with BusinessWeek, Satya Nadella explained how company founder Bill Gates and former CEO Steve Ballmer helped him transition into his role. He also said he wants his legacy to be making Microsoft an open place where people can be passionate.

“The best advice I got from both Steve and Bill was to not try and somehow get into this mold of trying to fill their shoes. It’s impossible. I’d grown up in the company they built admiring what they’d done, but at the same time they gave me enough confidence, quite frankly, to be my own person. I look at what is it that I want to achieve. I’ve been blessed to have this platform at Microsoft. But frankly, the first job I had at Microsoft I felt was the best job. The second job I had at Microsoft was the best job.

There was this one gentleman, who happens to be the governor of North Dakota now, who, when I worked for him at Microsoft, said, “You know, we all spend far too much time at work for it not to have deeper meaning.” I was probably in my early 30s when he said it, and I probably didn’t understand it. But over time I got it more. That’s what I want my legacy to be, that anyone who joins our company is able to connect their personal passion and use Microsoft as a platform to realize it.

I’d like to say, “Don’t think of working for Microsoft, but think of Microsoft working for you.” I get that it’s not going to be true every day. But even if it’s going to be partially possible for you to make that connection, then the way you think about your work, the way you derive your own meaning out of your work, is going to change.”

Despite giving praise to Steve Ballmer, Nadella has been vocal about needing to return Microsoft to its glory days. He has previously said the company needs to rediscover its soul. He told Businessweek how that progress is going:

I start from the position that I’m a consummate insider. I’ve grown up with Microsoft now for 25 years, the company that Bill and Steve built, and I’m very proud of it. At the same time, I’m grounded on the things that we can do better. One is this entire notion of culture. What happens in any successful institution is you start off with a brilliant idea. Otherwise, you can’t get anything going. Then you build all this amazing capability that reinforces that idea. The culture implicitly grows around it.

The challenge is the culture needs to foster a new idea. Just because you have this beautiful lock between the original concept and culture doesn’t mean you can get to the next concept. When someone has had one hit, that’s when the real struggle begins.”

Dealing with technology shifts is much easier than dealing with business model shifts. We had a successful business with high margins doing data center software. We had in some sense framed what success looks like, what progress looks like, using a particular definition of what the category is, what the margin profile is. Except that the world was changing.

The market itself was going to be much bigger but was probably going to come with a different margin profile. In other words, the business model was going to be fairly disruptive. We needed to confront that. That’s what happened to us in the cloud. Quite frankly, we were perhaps a little late to get to it, but we were very fast once we did. If you look at the last multiple layers of Microsoft, the cloud has been the highest-growth business in the company, even in historical terms. That’s nice to see. Success is not actually built by moving from hit to hit to hit. It’s the batting average that counts. You’ll make some mistakes, you’ll catch some trends, you’ll miss some trends. But the overall capability comes from being able to confront your fixed mindset.”

AI Development

Artificial intelligence is one of Microsoft’s core development areas and a focus of company innovation. Nadella says the company is driving AI development, especially on the Windows platform:

We have to keep both the challenge of AI, as well as the opportunities AI creates, front and center. Denying either one of them would be a mistake. One of the things that I think a lot about is what AI can mean for a topic that’s very near and dear to my heart, which is accessibility. I gave you one example, Seeing AI. Another one is learning. What we’ve done recently is taken AI tools and integrated them into the learning tools in Word and OneNote to help anyone with ­dyslexia. Once you help a child in school get past their reading challenge, a whole world opens up.

And what can we do for someone with ALS to be able to communicate? With the latest release of Windows, we took eye-gaze technology, and so, just with your eyes, you can start typing, communicating. That makes a world of difference for someone with ALS.

Even with something like radiology and the treatment of cancer. One of the most laborious processes is to identify the cancerous tumor and to make sure the radiotherapy is impacting only the tumor and not the good parts. That’s something that AI can actually help. These are examples where AI can help drive productivity, better health outcomes, better educational outcomes, provide more accessibility.”