The CEO of Microsoft is a busy man, his schedule regimented down to the second.
Satya Nadella is, after all, in charge of one of the world's most ubiquitous technology companies, with 114,000 employees, annual revenue of $85.3-billion (all currency in U.S. dollars) and a market capitalization of $450-billion (up 49 per cent since the Microsoft lifer took over from Steve Ballmer in 2014).
Microsoft is the dominant name in desktop computing – more than a billion people use Office or Windows every day. But the company has struggled in the past decade, most notably missing out on mobile almost entirely – Ballmer laughed at the iPhone back in 2007 for not having a physical keyboard; Apple just sold its billionth device in July.
It falls to Nadella to ensure Microsoft doesn't miss out on the next big things – cloud services (which now account for 29 per cent of revenues), remote computing, the Internet of Things, machine learning and other new, more human computing interfaces that could someday make the mouse and keyboard look laughably quaint.
We sat down with Nadella in Toronto (albeit briefly) to talk about the LinkedIn deal that will shape his legacy, the future of gaming, his family life and how he plans to steer what was once seen – and sometimes still is seen – as a defensive battleship as it enters its fifth decade.
1. If it weren't for Microsoft, Nadella would still be back in India.
It's such a privilege for me to have a chance to lead an organization like Microsoft. If it were not for the democratizing force of Microsoft's technology reaching me growing up in India, I would have never come to the United States or become CEO of Microsoft, so I'm thankful. I feel blessed to have that opportunity. I feel like now, to have that same platform have an impact in the world, is just...wow, this is great. So that's my life and my work.
2. The sheer vastness of his responsibilities as CEO came as a shock.
There is no such thing as looking to get trained to become CEO. That's not how it works. It's like, what if you took every job you had and thought of it as the biggest, greatest job, and learned the most and had the most expansive view of the impact you can have? Throughout my career, I've always pushed myself to do that – learn, learn, learn. And to some degree, that helped. Even in the role I had before becoming CEO, I would at least frame things as broadly as I could. Not because I was thinking, "One day I'm going to become CEO" – that was the last thing I expected. I mean, the week before it was announced, I don't think I knew I was going to be CEO of Microsoft.
And believe me, I've learned so much in the job. I felt I knew what a multi-constituent world we live in, but to know that it's about investors, it's about employees, it's about partners, it's about the local communities in every country we participate in, and to know you've got to keep a balance with that all the time – I don't think you get that sense until you become CEO and sit in that seat.
3. He might prefer hoodies to suits, but he's not exactly an outsider.
You have to remember, I'm a consummate insider. I grew up in Microsoft under Gates and Ballmer, and I have a lot of respect for what they have done. I learned a lot throughout that journey. And I'm fundamentally not about, there's the old Microsoft and there's the new Microsoft. I'm about, there is a new Microsoft every day. We're pushing ourselves to question our assumptions, to learn how we can be better. Looking back is only interesting to me as a way to look forward. Because where we came from, the sense of pride, the learnings – it's really about, are we better tomorrow at serving these partners and customers, and how do we reinvent, even? Technologies will come and go, but as long as you have a culture that's being renewed, and a sense of identity and purpose that's constant, I think we will be a new Microsoft every day.
4. Microsoft is everywhere.
Whenever I think about what it is that Microsoft creates and how Microsoft operates, the partner opportunities we create are a key part of it. To me, that's at the foundation for our company. It's not just about having a bunch of your own technology that is being used. It's about the technology that is helping others create more technology. Whenever I am in a country, I think about, okay, how many partners are there who are building their own businesses around our platforms? The next thing I would look for is, what are the start-ups? Then I think about the small businesses, because the lifeblood of any country is the small business. How are they adopting technology? How are they using cloud services? The cloud has really reduced the barrier for small businesses to have the same technology the large businesses have had, now with no friction.
Then there's the public sector. One of the reasons we created our data centres, and launched them this year here in Canada, is to help transform the public sector – you have to think about the taxpayer dollar going a much longer way. There is fascinating innovation I see – in many emerging markets, and hopefully we'll see it in Canada too – where the public sector organizations are able to take advantage of that.
And of course the large multinationals matter. Manulife – they are one of the biggest users in the world of our cloud-computing platform, Azure.
So it's that broad spectrum – helping large businesses become more globally competitive, small businesses become more productive, the public sector get more efficient, the start-ups using our infrastructure to build businesses. We're not just one consumer Internet company with lots of users in Canada. We are here providing fundamental technology for the Canadian economy to grow with Canadian participation.
5. Microsoft's newest acquisition, LinkedIn, is about to be everywhere, too.
We are very, very excited about the LinkedIn deal. It's a great – it's the only – professional network out there. The world's professionals are also using things like Office and Windows – we have an install base of a billion and a half. So the most natural thing to do, before we do one line of code of integration, is to bring the core distribution of Microsoft to LinkedIn, to make it a daily habit for our users.
Then, one of the real core dreams I've always had is, what if we can bring Office 365 and LinkedIn together to help the user? To not have seams between their everyday productivity and communication and their professional network? Similarly, what if we can have the salesperson who uses LinkedIn to find customers also use Microsoft's Dynamics CRM system? Same thing in recruiting, same thing in learning.
That's really the opportunity ahead. And by the way, all of those integrations can be done in a loosely coupled way – you don't have to go in to the code of LinkedIn to change it. All you gotta do is integrations. Some of those integrations couldn't have been done with a commercial relationship, because it's a proprietary service in a database that can only be integrated when you have full ownership of that asset.
6. No Apple envy here.
I don't want to do things out of envy. I want to do things that we were born to do, that the world expects us to do. I think about empowering people and organizations all over the planet to achieve more. It's key to keep thinking about Microsoft as the only place where we can not only do magical things for people but, more importantly, for the organizations that people build – which, in many cases, will outlast them.
That's paramount – for our customers and our partners and anyone else to know and to recognize Microsoft as a trusted partner. And for our Microsoft team members to be mission-driven and driven by this cultural growth mindset. I want us to be proud of that. I also want people to understand that it's not an abstract thing – it's the daily choices of the 100,000 people who work here that shape it as an organic thing. That's the core.
7. He wants your kids to play even more Minecraft than they already do.
To see how Minecraft is changing this summer in North America, who would have thought that a game franchise would not only be a great, great game franchise, but also helping introduce STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] education to boys and girls all over the world? That's the kind of company we are.
8. Canadian companies need to bust outside our borders.
You've really got to get large businesses here to become great multinationals. And when you think about a multinational company operating under many different jurisdictions, they need the right type of partners. For example, one of the things we do is have our cloud infrastructure not only in Canada, but also in many other regions, like China. I know that a lot of Canadian companies think about what is their export orientation, what are they doing with some of these other markets – we are very, very helpful in making that possible.
I think it's fundamental to how Canada rides this fourth industrial revolution and participates in it. To think about it not in any one singular dimension, but to have a national agenda, which talks about start-ups that are getting built out of here. What is the small business productivity that is being gained, because every small business is part of some distribution or supply chain of large businesses either here or worldwide?
9. He's a total workaholic.
What does balance mean? One person's balance is different from another person's balance. What I try to do is find some harmony between what is considered work and what is considered life. And quite honestly, a little bit of that is about making work your life and your life your work.
But again, there are practical things one needs to do in today's world, because we all have finite time, and family matters. Community matters. Being able to harmonize those things is super-important. So the time I'm with my daughters and my son – those few minutes and few hours I spend over the weekends with them – can I be really present? That's hard to do, but a very important thing that I strive to get better at each day.