Microsoft's CEO Pick: From India To Insider
Satya Nadella recalls asking Steve Ballmer in a management performance review how he stacked up against 'greats' from Microsoft Corp.'s past. The chief executive called the question 'nonsense,' because it didn't focus on the future of the company.
The moment transformed Mr. Nadella's thinking. 'What drives me every morning and what keeps me up every night is one thing: this business is not about longevity, it's about relevance,' Mr. Nadella said in an interview in October.
It is also a window into the 46-year-old Indian immigrant and consummate Microsoft insider who appears on the brink of being chosen to pilot the tech giant as it seeks to reverse years of waning influence.
Mr. Nadella is currently in contract negotiations to succeed Mr. Ballmer as chief executive, a person familiar with the situation said. Microsoft's board is scheduled to meet early next week to approve Mr. Nadella's contract, this person said. It may also weigh whether to choose a new board chair if co-founder and current chair Bill Gates spends more time as an adviser to Mr. Nadella, a request Mr. Nadella made during his contract negotiations.
Mr. Nadella, 46 years old, is a specialist in some of the software giant's least sexy but most technology-intensive businesses, including software for server systems and what the industry calls cloud computing services. He has helped wring better numbers from some of the company's biggest operations, and is known for his eagerness to please superiors.
But people who have worked with Mr. Nadella say his greatest asset is an affable, collaborative style that stands out at a company known for big egos and heated arguments. His personality and deep technical background could help retain key engineers or programmers that sometimes head for the exits following a big management change.
'It's hard to find a single person who doesn't have a nice thing to say about him, which is rare at the top of a company,' said Ravi Venkatesan, former head of Microsoft's India operations. 'You have to be pretty hard-driving to get there, and he's humble, incredibly humble.'
A key question is whether Mr. Nadella is ready for a task of this size, one that could require tough organizational decisions that won't be popular with some insiders.
Microsoft's next CEO, among other things, must integrate roughly 32,000 employees from the handset business purchased from Nokia Corp., boost the popularity of its touch-oriented version of Windows and match the technical cachet of rivals like Google Inc. and Apple Inc.
'The compliments that he is a good collaborator, that makes him popular -- but at the same time that could be his biggest challenge,' says Alexander Gounares, a 17-year Microsoft veteran who is now chief executive of a startup called Concurix Corp. 'Was Steve Jobs really a great collaborator? No.'
In interviews and speeches, Mr. Nadella has given considerable credit to Mr. Ballmer and Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and co-founder, for educating him about technology and management skills after he joined Microsoft in 1992 from Sun Microsystems.
Mr. Nadella's journey to the upper echelons of the tech sector began in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, where he attended high school and bowled on the cricket pitch.
He studied electronics and communication engineering at Manipal Institute of Technology, a hillside campus less than 10 kilometers away from the Arabian Sea.
'I remember asking him about what's ahead,' said Ganesh Prasad, a former classmates who said that Mr. Nadella responded that he wanted to get involved in marketing at a software company -- namely Microsoft. 'His goal was so clear at that time.'
After moving to the U.S., he earned a master's degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Chicago.
Once at Microsoft, Mr. Nadella moved every few years, working on business that include Windows and the company's popular Office suite of PC applications programs. In more recent years, he has helped lead efforts that include Microsoft's Bing search engine, its SQL Server database and a cloud service called Azure, whose technology underpins Microsoft's own online services and is also used to run computing operations for other companies.
Mr. Nadella, who has two daughters, said in a 2012 interview that it was very easy for them to understand what he does for a living when he was working on Bing. The explanations grew tougher, he said, when he began overseeing things like cloud services and tools for developers.
'Now I tell them, 'I work on Windows but it's not the Windows you see,' and that they don't really understand,' Mr. Nadella said.
Many of his speeches, indeed, are a bit hard to follow, chock-a-block with terms like 'platform' and 'infrastructure' and 'Internet scale' that characterize what Mr. Nadella calls Microsoft's cloud operating system. But he knows how to communicate well with engineers, former colleagues say.
Though far from flashy, Mr. Nadella cuts a singular figure on Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., campus, where khakis, jeans and T-shirts usually rule. He often wears a stylish sports coat and has a close-cropped haircut and designer eyeglasses.
At Mr. Nadella's urging, Microsoft in the last couple of years has stepped up its courting of startups in Silicon Valley. Mr. Nadella takes regular trips to the Bay Area to speak with venture-capital investors and technology executives, and has spoken before groups of Indian-born entrepreneurs.
In a sign of bending to the startup lifestyle, at a 2012 Azure event in San Francisco, Mr. Nadella and other executives moved an executive presentation to 1 p.m. from 9 a.m. to accommodate night-owl tech workers.
Mr. Nadella also sent a personal apology to Israeli startup Soluto after the 50-person business-software service wrote a blog post last year about how an Azure outage took the company offline, said Soluto CEO Tomer Dvir.
His eagerness to show his bosses a high activity level backfired at least once. In August, Mr. Nadella recalls, he initially declined when Mr. Ballmer sent his executive team an email to meet in his office.
'I wanted to skip it, and show my CEO that I have more important things to do, something that was M&A related,' Mr. Nadella said in October. Mr. Ballmer's assistant told Mr. Nadella to reconsider.
When he and the fellow executives met in the CEO's office, Mr. Ballmer shocked them by telling them that he was retiring.
Some of his former colleagues question whether Mr. Nadella -- or any insider, for that matter -- can make the kind of tough changes that may be required to boost the perception of Microsoft.
Mr. Venkatesan disagrees, arguing that an outsider would likely run into conflicts with Microsoft's corporate culture.
He believes Mr. Nadella understands the organization and has shown a willingness to take risks.
Mr. Nadella, meanwhile, has said success should be easy to judge. 'Relevance comes with innovation and marketplace success,' he said in October. 'The marketplace will speak so loudly and so clearly that it will not be ambiguous.'
纳德拉(Satya Nadella)记得自己曾在一次管理层绩效评估会上，向首席执行长鲍尔默(Steve Ballmer)问过如何战胜微软(Microsoft Corp.)过往辉煌的问题。鲍尔默当时的回答是，这是个“没有意义的问题”，因为它的关注点不是公司的未来。
微软下一任首席执行长面临的几大任务包括：把从诺基亚公司(Nokia Corp.)收购的手机业务约32,000名员工整合进微软、提高适用于触摸屏的Windows版本的受欢迎程度，以及在技术威信方面达到谷歌(Google Inc.)、苹果(Apple Inc.)等竞争对手的水平。
曾在微软工作过17年的Alexander Gounares说，人们称赞纳德拉是个优秀的合作者，这个优点令他受人欢迎。不过与此同时，这个特点也可能成为他的最大挑战。Gounares说，乔布斯(Steve Jobs)也是个优秀的合作者么？答案是否定的。Gounares目前是初创公司Concurix Corp.的首席执行长。
他曾就读于曼尼帕尔理工学院(Manipal Institute of Technology)。这所学院坐落于山坡之上，距离阿拉伯海不到10公里。
在移居美国之后，纳德拉从威斯康星大学(University of Wisconsin)获得了计算机科学学士学位，并从芝加哥大学(University of Chicago)获得了工商管理硕士学位。