Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s current CEO was elected by the tech giant’s board to be its new chair on Wednesday. This is the first time in more than 20 years that the roles of CEO and chair have been held by the same person.
The last person who simultaneously held both positions was Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, before stepping down as CEO 21 years ago at the turn of the millennium.
Gates stepped down as Microsoft’s chair in 2014 and left the company’s board entirely last year in a bid to focus on his philanthropic priorities.
In February 2014, Nadella took over as Microsoft CEO having previously led the company’s cloud computing division. No doubt his past experience helped in the pervasiveness that Microsoft Azure enjoys today.
Business Insider reports that Nadella has actively sought to distance his style of leadership from that of Gates, especially in May this year after the Wall Street Journal reported on a 2019 investigation commissioned by Microsoft’s board into an alleged relationship between Gates and a former Microsoft employee.
Many other employees have since come out with allegations. In particular, the New York Times reported on employees feeling uncomfortable working with and around Gates.
“I feel that we have created an environment that allows us to really drive the everyday improvement in our diversity and inclusion culture, which I think is a super important thing and that’s what I’m focused on,” Nadella says about the influence of his leadership.
“Women Should Rely on Karma” Controversy
In 2014, Nadella made a series of controversial comments at the Grace Hopper Celebration, a prominent conference for women in tech.
During an on-stage conversation with Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College and a then-Microsoft board member, Nadella told the 8,000 conference attendees that women should rely on “faith” in the system and “good karma” to get pay raises, rather than asking bosses for them.
Nadella apologised soon after and used the incident to launch the previously mentioned series of diversity and inclusion initiatives in Microsoft.
Klawe claims that she was blamed by the board for “putting Nadella in the situation” and that the comment made the company look back. Klawe says that she was asked to resign from the board after the incident and that she “felt like [she] was being silenced.”