Tech giant Microsoft (MSFT) recently named 22-year company veteran Satya Nadella as its next CEO, which ended a protracted search for a new leader after current CEO Steve Ballmer had announced his intention to retire in August. It also put a lot of speculation to rest about other contenders for the Microsoft top-job conclusively. Nadella’s naming to the post makes him the third CEO since the Redmond-Washington, company was founded in 1975. John Thompson, lead independent director, would succeed Gates as chairman, with Gates retaining a seat on the board and assuming a new role as technology adviser.
“Satya’s asked me to step in, substantially increasing the time that I spend at the company,” says Gates. “I’ll have over a third of my time available to meet with product groups. It’ll be fun to define this next round of products, working together.” Talking about Satya, he says: “There is no better person to lead Microsoft than Satya Nadella. He is a proven leader with hard-core engineering skills, business vision, and the ability to bring people together. His vision for how technology will be used and experienced around the world is exactly what Microsoft needs as the company enters its next chapter of expanded product innovation and growth.”
The appointment of Nadella came after a search committee led by Thompson gave itself a year to find a new CEO, but took longer. Ford Motors CEO Alan Mulally, and Sundar Pichai currently helming Android and Chrome for Google were other leading contenders. Now that the succession outlook is clear, investors and analysts are postulating how effective Nadella would be in reigniting the company’s mobile ambitions, and satisfying Wall Street’s hunger for cash. Microsoft faces a steady erosion of its PC-centric Windows and Office franchises and needs to put up a challenge Apple and Google in this new dawn of mobile computing.
“While we view Mr. Nadella as a ‘safe pick’ with Microsoft continuing down the right lane of the highway with its new CEO in hand, the fear among investors is that other tech vendors from social, enterprise, mobile, and the tablet segments continue to easily speed past the firm down the left lane of innovation and growth,” FBR analyst Daniel Ives said. Most agree Nadella’s background makes him a safe custodian to take the company forward, but there is doubt over his ability to make Microsoft a hit with consumers. In choosing Nadella, “Microsoft has turned to a highly accomplished executive in the mould of Gates, who reportedly held out for a candidate with sufficient technical gravitas to inspire – and if need be, change – Microsoft’s engineer-driven corporate culture,” wrote CNet, a technology site. “At the still relatively young age of 46, Nadella oversaw one of Microsoft’s fastest-growing divisions – the Cloud & Enterprise Group – which accounted for US$ 20.3 billion in revenue and US $8.2 billion in operating income during the company’s last fiscal,” it noted.
Nadella, who grew up in Hyderabad, went to Hyderabad Public School in Begumpet before getting a Bachelor’s Degree of Engineering in Electronics and Communications from Manipal College of Karnataka. He earned a Masters in Computer Science after moving to the US from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Chicago. Nadella called the appointment “humbling” in an email to company’s employees, excerpted here:
… Microsoft was the best company in the world. I saw then how clearly we empower people to do magical things with our creations and ultimately make the world a better place. It is an incredible honor for me to lead and serve this great company of ours. Steve and Bill have taken it from an idea to one of the greatest and most universally admired companies in the world … As I step in as CEO, I’ve asked Bill to devote additional time to the company, focused on technology and products. I’m also looking forward to working with John Thompson as our new Chairman of the Board. While we have seen great success, we are hungry to do more. Our industry does not respect tradition — it only respects innovation …
… Who am I? I am 46. I’ve been married for 22 years and have 3 kids. And like anyone else, a lot of what I do and how I think has been shaped by my family and my overall life experiences. Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. 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 …
… Why am I here? I am here for the same reason I think most people join Microsoft — to change the world through technology that empowers people to do amazing things. And why are we here? Because we are the only ones who can harness the power of software and deliver it through devices and services that truly empower every individual and every organization. We are the only company with history and continued focus in building platforms and ecosystems that create broad opportunity …
… So what do we do next? 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 foundation together …
— SATYA NADELLA
Satya, a reluctant tweeter who last tweeted way back in 2010, came on twitter after his elevation as the new CEO, “First commitment as CEO, I won’t wait four years between tweets !” Nadella has tweeted a mere 27 times since 2009 and yet has 108,000 followers on twitter. While his tweets are mostly Ms-shoptalk, two old tweets of his do give us a glimpse of the person: “Great evening to be watching some good old fashioned test cricket!” The second tweet is deja vu: “I may break my continuous workday record!” If workaholism and cricketmania are stereotypical Indian traits, Nadella certainly does seem to have both of them.
Though Indians form but a minuscule percentage of the US population, it is fact that many top-honchos of major global corporations are Americans of Indian origin, and Satya Nadella is just the newest kid on the block who’s joined this elite club, which includes compatriots like Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Ajit Jain of Berkshire Hathaway, Ajay Banga of Mastercard, Shantanu Narayen of Adobe, Anshu Jain of Deutsche Bank, Dinesh Paliwal of Harmon International and Ivan Menezes of Diageo, to mention a handful. So what really makes these people tick? What are the core qualities that have made these Indians such a successful climbers in the rough and tumble of the international corporate pyramid?
Be it the placid environs of backwater small towns or the monstrous anonymity of the big cities and metros, one aspect of Indian life is that they have all been driven to excel in a dog-eat-dog job mart. That apart, family values in India have also meant that life inexorably revolves around education as the only path toward emancipation, and parental expectations have certainly and surely contributed to the focused nature of Indian achievers. High expectations also probably propelled a person like Nooyi to excel in every task she undertook, and to keep learning. She is the architect of the ‘Performance with Purpose’ mantra at PepsiCo, which clocks over US$ 65 billion in nett revenue today. She once told aspiring Indian-American executives, “I’m not being arrogant but I know who I am and I will tell you this – I am where I am because I’m Indian.” By talking about her Indian roots with pride, she encourages her young audiences to claim their heritage and see it as a plus point in the corporate world.
Vivek Wadhwa, noted academic and Fellow at Stanford University, is not surprised at the proliferation of Indian CEOs in the US and elsewhere: “It is simply a numbers game – if you have enough people in companies working hard, the cream will rise to the top, and you’re talking now about the creme de la creme. These CEOs have the best Indian qualities and values without the Indian social problems.” The best of both worlds?
“Indians are succeeding in America in almost everything. It’s an across the board phenomenon,” observes Arvind Panagariya, Economist and Professor at the Columbia University. Panagariya attributes the success of Indians to a number of causes, including the hoary educational traditions in India, coupled with the openness and superlative American experience that helps them to build further on that foundation. Having lived in joint families in a crowded country, Indians also know how to accommodate and adjust.
Even as these CEOs strive to make their employer global corporations the best they can aspire to be, they tend to remain Indian at heart and in sentiment, lending more credence to the adage that ‘you could take an Indian out of India, but you cannot possibly take India out of the Indian.’