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May - 2015 - issue > Cover Story
Satya Nadella The Road Ahead
SI Team
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
It's a Friday night, and a 25 year old bespectacled man is waiting at an airport terminal, his flight to Chicago due in twenty minutes. The same routine would be repeated the week next and for two years after that. Studying business at the University of Chicago on Saturdays and returning to Redmond to work for Microsoft [NASDAQ:MSFT] during the week, this young man had his goals set far. He was determined not to let go of his dream job because he believed that Microsoft was the best place to empower people to do magical things. 22 years later, it is the same relentless aspiration that saw him being positioned as the CEO of Microsoft and the man is no other than Satya Nadella.

Nadella's reasons for sticking to the software giant Microsoft for over 22 years was simple. "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," expressed Nadella. Recounting an incident from the early days when he joined Microsoft, the CIO of large American multinational banking firm refused to meet Nadella, as back then Microsoft was mainly perceived as a company that sold software for the home PC. Today, with the dramatic rise of enterprise computing, Microsoft embeds Office Software in practically every business in the world. With changing times technology is constantly evolving and Nadella is the best judge to that. "Our industry does not respect tradition-it only respects innovation," remarked the CEO.

Microsoft the Nadella Way
The first thing, Nadella implemented once he came into power was the "Mobile First Cloud Strategy" detracting from the "devices and services company," Microsoft previously emphasized on. To kick start this complete Cloud delivery, Microsoft announced several enhancements to its enterprise-grade, hybrid cloud platform, including the new Azure G-series of virtual machines and Premium Storage and a new Azure Marketplace. Microsoft delivered more than 500 new Azure services and features since last year and took a number of significant steps to use open source even more broadly. Microsoft and IBM have also fostered an alliance, accounting to which they will provide elements of their respective enterprise software on each other's clouds. In the recent Microsoft Build Developer Conference, Nadella vouched that the company is aiming for $20 billion in revenue from cloud services by the end of the fiscal year in June 2018.

However, the crux of Microsoft's future popularity is pinned on Project Hololens, discerned as the Holy Grail in the Nadella era. When Microsoft was founded, its ambitious goal to power every house with a personal computer seemed as radical as Project Hololens in current time. Tucked away in the basement of Building 92, there is an incognito project underway which many of Microsoft employees are completely unaware of. Hololens is similar to a face computer that resembles a pair of space-age sunglasses, which merges the virtual with the real. The stakes on this project are extremely high and it stands as Nadella's testament to reestablish the innovation and creativity that Microsoft is known for.

Undertaking his rebranding challenge with immense gusto, Nadella has been networking at a vehement pace since he filled in the coveted position of CEO. He has spent time meeting with startup founders, focused on new partnership with technology stalwarts like Dropbox and SalesForce and has promising products in line for the future. Also, it cannot be ignored than since Nadella stepped into the role, Microsoft's revenue has jumped 12 percent to $93.5 billion. There is definitely a sense when experts say that Nadella's Microsoft is on some sort of groove.

Modernizing Processes to be Customer-Obsessed
We need to believe in the impossible and remove the improbable- Nadella paraphrased Oscar Wilde to substantiate his goal for Microsoft. Under Nadellas's headship, Microsoft finally realized that even more than mobility of devices it is the mobility of human experience that counts and Microsoft's core aim for this year will be to obsess over their customers. Nadella was successful in scrapping the archaic policy where Office software was limited to only windows devices, making it available on Apple and Google-powered tablets and phones through Enterprise Mobility Suite. The Office suite-Word, Excel and PowerPoint was made free for Android tablets; and upgrading for windows 7 and 8 users was also made free; two bold moves made by Nadella that helped escalate growth. Furthermore, Nadella eschewed Microsoft's traditional research and development method to garner experimentation. The company extended its Microsoft Garage with a new section on its website, designed to give public early access to various projects that the company is testing. Previously it was an inside group but it was kicked off with a total of 16 free consumer-facing apps, spanning Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and the Xbox One. This stands as yet another validation to Nadella's consumer first approach.


Repaving the Road Ahead
To motivate his employees, Nadella also asked Bill Gates to step up into the role of technical advisor, which will see Gate's in a more active product role, cutting down his involvement in administration work. The situation Microsoft faces in 2015 is not very different from twenty years ago when Gate's ideology on "information highway" captured in his 1995 book The Road Ahead was a huge hit. The only difference is that Bill Gate's idea of computing has a new metaphor called Cloud and the previous computing platform-PC is being replaced by the mobile. The two generation of CEOs are more or less guided by the same vision-centering innovation as their mantra to success.

Dawn of a New Era
The day is coming to an end at a Windows 10 event held in Redmond, when Nadella takes center stage to conclude the press meet but Microsoft's imprint in the next phase of technology invention is only beginning. Nadella comments that Windows 10 will be the go-to operating system that everyone can enjoy, regardless of what they need to do on a computer. Not straying too far from its famed expertise in enterprise software, Windows 10 for the first time will make Microsoft's vision of a unified computing experience a reality. In his memo titled 'Bold Ambition & our Core', Nadella penned that Microsoft will witness a massive cultural change in the coming years. "Our developers and partners will thrive by creatively extending Microsoft experiences for every individual and business on the planet."

An American business magnate once said that, "as we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others." These words remind the world a bit about Nadella who in turn said in an inspirational letter that, "we must all understand and embrace what only Microsoft can contribute to the world and how we can once again change the world. I consider the job before us to be bolder and more ambitious than anything we have ever done." Incidentally, the American business magnate quoted is Bill Gates and undoubtedly he has found his empowered leader in Nadella.

Panel: Growing up along the banks of the River Musi in Hyderbad, India, Satya Nadella's journey from playing cricket in the dusty pitches of the Deccan Plateau to the CEO of a billion dollar firm is quite the American Dream come true. Nadella's passion for cricket also trickles into his management skills and the credits the game for the leadership which he brings into the company. Born in a telugu speaking family, his father a former bureaucrat worked for the Indian Administrative Service and his mother was a Sanskrit lecturer. After completing his schooling from Hyderabad Public School, Nadella wanted to pursue computer science but the emphasis was not available when he attended Mangalore University in India, where he received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. In 1992, the year he started working in Microsoft, he married his high school sweetheart Anupama and the couple has three children. The 46 year old expatriate is a poet at heart and believes that it is the best code to inspire his employees. He holds a fondness for Indian and American poetry. Nadella also confesses being guilty of buying more books that he can finish and signing up for more online courses that he can complete. Not forgetting his Indian roots, Nadella claims that he loves cooking and his favorite recipe is the hyderbadi biryani.

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