Who is Microsoft’s Satya Nadella?

Microsoft's newly-appointed CEO Satya Nadella (image: Microsoft)

Announcing his departure as CEO of Microsoft about a year ago, Steven Ballmer finally stepped aside on Tuesday. In his place, the company announced that, after a long and much-speculated candidate list, Satya Nadella would be taking over the helm of one of the world’s biggest and arguable most influential companies.

Microsoft's newly-appointed CEO Satya Nadella (image: Microsoft)
Microsoft’s newly-appointed CEO Satya Nadella (image: Microsoft)

But who exactly is Satya Nadella and why has nobody heard of him before?

Born Satyanarayana Nadella in Hyderabad, India in 1967, he attended Hyderabad Public School in Begumpet, after which he completed a bachelor of engineering in electronics and communication degree from Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal, Karnataka.

After moving to the USA, he continued his studies and managed to complete a Master of Science in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and an MBA from the University Of Chicago Booth School Of Business.

Before taking up employment at Microsoft in 1992, Nadella worked at Sun Microsystems as a member of its technology staff. He said he joined Microsoft as the company proved that they can empower people to do wonderful things. “(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,” he said.

“For the same reason I think most people join Microsoft – to change the world through technology that empowers people to do amazing things. “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,” he added.

Satya Nadella (centre) with co-founder Bill Gates and former CEO Steven Ballmer (image: Microsoft)
Satya Nadella (centre) with co-founder Bill Gates and former CEO Steven Ballmer (image: Microsoft)

According to Microsoft, “he quickly became known as a leader who could span a breadth of technologies and businesses to transform some of Microsoft’s biggest product offerings.” Starting out as the senior vice president of research and development for the Online Services Division and vice president of the Microsoft Business Division, he quickly climbed the ranks and was eventually made the president of Microsoft’s Server and Tools Business. He was instrumental in changing Microsoft’s business culture from client services to cloud infrastructure and services.

“In this role he led the transformation to the cloud infrastructure and services business, which outperformed the market and took share from competition,” Microsoft states.

With cloud computing being very high on his agenda, he transformed Microsoft’s database, Windows Server and developer tools to its Azure cloud – which saw revenue climb from $16.6 billion in 2011 to $20.3 billion in June 2013.

Late last year and continuing throughout January 2014, rumours started to circulate as to who might be the next CEO. The short list for candidates included Nadella, Ford CEO Alan Mulally, Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg and Nokia’s former chief Stephen Elop.

Before being announced as Mircosoft’s third new CEO in four decades, Nadella served as Microsoft’s President of the Server & Tools.

“Our industry does not respect tradition – it only respects innovation. The opportunity ahead for Microsoft is vast, but to seize it, we must move faster, focus and continue to transform. I see a big part of my job as accelerating our ability to bring innovative products to our customers more quickly,” he said after his announcement.

He hinted that a great part of his focus as CEO will be on leading Microsoft in Mobile and Cloud domains. “Make no mistake, we are headed for greater places – as technology evolves and we evolve with and ahead of it. Our job is to ensure that Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world,” he said.

Giving a bit of a personal insight, Nadella revealed that enjoys cricket, reads a lot and educates himself further as much as he can.

“I think playing cricket taught me more about working in teams and leadership that has stayed with me throughout my career. 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. Just crazy ambitions in the 15 minutes I have in the morning. You know, I’m trying to listen to a neuroscience class or something. I kind of ask myself, why are you doing it? But I love it. So family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge all define me.”

But Nadella has his future at the company cut out for him. The New Yorker said, “The Microsoft that Nadella is inheriting is different from the one that Steve Ballmer took over in 2000″ when “Microsoft was perhaps the most powerful and influential technology company in the world.”

“This makes Nadella’s challenge all the more profound: he cannot merely finish constructing the world for which he’s been handed the blueprints; instead, he must begin to imagine a wholly new one,” it wrote.

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor