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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, the Guest Editor for TOI’s Tuesday print edition, talks about his passions: Technology, cricket, empowering people, and hitting fresh in an ever-changing world.
When Satya Nadella was a boy, his father hung a poster of Karl Marx in his bedroom. In response, his mother hung up one of Goddess Lakshmi. But the only poster Nadella wanted was of his cricketing hero, Hyderabad great M L Jaisimha.
So when the man who now heads infotech giant Microsoft, which has an annual revenue of some $90 billion and market cap of almost $650 billion, cheerfully strode in for The Times of India’s editorial meeting, unfazed by a long drive in nightmarish traffic from IGI Airport, we had a nostalgia piece on Jaisimha ready for his perusal. “Oh yes, I definitely want to see this in the paper,” remarked Nadella, briefly transformed once again into a starry-eyed fan as he eagerly read the piece.
Does he still follow cricket, and does he have any favourite cricketers? “I do follow cricket passionately, though I’m more of a Test match fan. I’m not so much into IPL,” he responded. “I think Virat is very special, and I’m amazed at Ashwin’s versatility as a bowler. I also love watching Rohit Sharma play. Some of his shots and the follow-through remind me of VVS Laxman. He seems to have so much time to play his strokes. And it’s awesome to see India field a genuinely hostile pace attack. In fact, the whole team – their fielding, athleticism, professionalism – is something else. It is fantastic to see Indians play like Australians,” he gushed.
Satya Nadella on his love for cricket
We quickly ran him through some other special stories that had been commissioned keeping in mind his interests. He speedily approved a story on how academic institutions need to go beyond imparting specialised skills to a more cross-functional approach. “In my first week at Microsoft, I ran into a guy who spent his free time alternately reading industry magazines and T S Eliot. He said one was for information, the other was for inspiration,” recalled Nadella with a laugh. “More than cross-functional skills, though, what we really need to emphasise is teamwork – a culture where people from diverse backgrounds can come together to do great work.”
Satya Nadella on the importance of teamwork for success
We mentioned an
exclusive interview with chemistry Nobel laureate Joachim Frank+
, who told TOI that US President Donald Trump posed a “terrible danger to the world” because of his refusal to act on climate change. What did Nadella think of Trump, we asked.
“I’ve met President Trump a couple of times,” he replied. “I felt I was a beneficiary of two uniquely American things — the spread of technology and the readiness to accept immigrants. When I met the President, I told him America needs to maintain its competitive edge in these areas and I found him very receptive. Incidentally, my discussions with him mirror my talks with the Indian PM, the UK PM and a lot of other heads of state. They are all anxious to know how IT can help their citizens. Instead of passing value judgments on them, I feel that as the CEO of a multinational, I have a responsibility to help the citizens of their countries, whether it is small businesses, the public sector, or large businesses. Politics is separate from business, though the intersection is the ability of elected officials to be able to take advantage of new technology to help citizens.”
We couldn’t help but ask Nadella if he was Republican or Democrat. “I’m a believer in democracy,” he responded with a grin, neatly dodging the bullet.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Digital India, Google, Apple and the future
In his book, ‘Hit Refresh’, Nadella has written movingly about his son, Zain, who suffered in-utero asphyxiation. Now 21, Zain has severe cerebral palsy and will spend his life confined to a wheelchair. One of the special articles in this edition focuses on how IT is helping transform the lives of the differently-abled. “As a tech person, I know how computing can play a huge role in improving lives. We have some really interesting features in Windows 10. There’s Eye Control, which empowers people with disabilities to operate an onscreen mouse, keyboard, and text-to-speech experience using only their eyes. We worked closely with former NFL (National Football League) player Steve Gleason, who has ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuromuscular disease) to develop this. Then there’s Seeing AI, a camera app. You can hold up your phone and hear information about the world around you, turning the visual world into an audible experience. And then there’s Learning Tools, which dramatically improves the reading and writing experience for dyslexic students,” said Nadella.
It was time to run Nadella through the day’s big news stories. Referring to the Texas mass shooting, we asked how come there’s been such little movement on gun control even in the face of such tragically frequent incidents.
Nadella took a moment to gather his thoughts. “Any and all senseless violent is abhorrent. As a global community, we should do everything we can to curb it. Every country has specific issues that it needs to work through. I’m sure that all debate eventually helps us move forward towards a solution.”
Did he have a point of view on the Paradise papers? “I really have no knowledge of the subject, so I don’t feel qualified to comment,” said Nadella. He paused as a cup of black coffee was placed in front of him, saying “thoda (a little)” when asked if he wanted milk.
Satya Nadella on demonetisation
Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of demonetisation. What did he think of the whole exercise? “I’m not an expert on how it played out. But if I just take a step back and look at the big picture, of how digitisation could be used to reduce transaction costs in the economy, I think it’s a fantastic idea. Of course, a lot depends on implementation. As far as the short-term pain is concerned, more qualified experts than me will have to opine on the subject. But in democracies, it does tend to be hard to take non-linear steps.”
Does it bother him that Microsoft seems to have fallen behind Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon? “I don’t measure us by others, and I certainly don’t want us to follow anyone out of envy. Microsoft’s identity is that of a tool maker, a platform creator. We want to offer you tools to write applications that’ll change the world. Our business model is, in fact, dependent on others succeeding in creating something of value. I want us to be proud of our identity and build on it.
Inevitably, the conversation turned to Bill Gates. Does Nadella – only the third CEO in Microsoft’s 42-year history – recall how he first met the founder CEO? Would he like Gates to play a bigger role in Microsoft, we asked.
“I was first introduced to Bill over a thread. It was an email discussion on a pretty esoteric subject,” he chuckled. “Bill has great intellectual honesty and very strong opinions, but if you can convince him that you’re right, he’s happy to acknowledge it. I’ve strongly pitched for him to be engaged more deeply in the technical vision for our products and services. It’s fantastic that Bill is still willing to engage with us as deeply as he does, but it is for us to run the company.”
Satya Nadella on his role models