Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella is in the middle of a whirlwind tour across the world for his book “Hit Refresh” which talks about how he is in the process of reinventing the company. Right now he is visiting India, and from giving the keynote at the first edition of the India Today Next Conclave to sharing stage with legendary Indian leg-spinner Anil Kumble, Nadella has been on an energetic mission spreading the gospel of this new Microsoft which he terms as being empathetic, and being an innovator which will help people do more.
As he walked into the room along with Anant Maheshwari Microsoft’s India head, Nadella spots my iPad and a colleague’s iPad and cheerfully says, ”You need to get a real computer, my friend.”
This was the very essence of what Nadella is doing with Microsoft. He is quietly confident about the technology his company is inventing and championing and at the same time, he stays humble and true to his own roots.
At being asked a question about his faux pas at Grace Hopper Celebration for women’s event, he immediately admits his mistake and says, “It was a huge learning experience for me because the answer I gave was utter nonsense.” But he goes beyond this and says that he made changes to the compensation structure of his leadership team where they are judged by numeral metrics for improving diversity and compensation of women in Microsoft.
“One of the things we have done — than saying a set of words — we changed the compensation of me and my leadership team where we now have to make numeric progress. I feel there is more to be done. In fact, Melinda Gates joined Microsoft as a computer scientist, the number was at 35 percent and now it has dropped to 17 percent so there is a lot more to do to make computer science attractive,” he said.
Even when it was pointed out that he achieved the zenith at Microsoft despite flunking IIT exams in India and not attending an Ivy League university in the United States, he talked about how it was important to keep learning from mistakes.
“I look at it and say let’s have perspective. What matters more isn’t what you did yesterday but what your posture of learning is tomorrow. That’s where parents and institutional leaders can be elitist and we have to be about identifying kids and giving them the confidence to not be know-it-alls but be learn-it-alls. It is my personal philosophy flunking exams has definitely taught me as long as I’m learning I’m fine. Failure is part and parcel of life, the question is what you going to do about it,” Nadella told me humbly.
Microsoft is different from Apple and Google
But the bigger and pressing questions were surrounded around the fact despite Microsoft’s recent success in the cloud computing business, it was being viewed as an enterprise company, but not a glamorous maker of consumer electronics like Apple, Nadella leans on this monk-like zen and sense of clarity of how Microsoft is a different company than say other tech titans like Apple or Google.
“Whenever we have done things that come naturally to us we’ve been successful. Even if it’s a consumer product it is a tool. I fell in love with Microsoft technology because of what it created.”
“In a way, I don’t want to take away from whatever success Apple or Google are having. We are very different companies. We are not some middleman in the marketplace. We are a tool creator we are not a luxury good manufacturer. That’s not who we are. We are about creating technologies so that others can build,” he states with a sense of monk-like clarity.
Nadella makes one thing crystal clear for Microsoft to win it is not a zero-sum game that Apple, Google or some other technology company has to lose. He is also willing to make hard decisions if there is a clear diction from the market.
“You take a look at what we did with groove and Spotify. Look at the Harmon and Kardon speaker. In some sense, it is a fantastic Cortana speaker but also for Spotify. The last time I checked there were a lot more Spotify people than Groove people. So let us bring the best of what Microsoft has to a Spotify user and create consumer fans. So that’s the approach we want to take,” he says echoing a similar hardiness he displayed when he swiftly jettisoned Nokia’s smartphone business that he had inherited which had already lost the market to Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone.
Microsoft is a different kind of a consumer company
Nadella is quite comfortable with the fact that it doesn’t make phones or widely sold consumer electronics. He feels it is a different type of a consumer-facing company. He cites the example of the Surface hardware unit.
“Even with Surface, we created a premium product and premium brand and basically said you know what every OEM should create a lower priced model. We want to democratise things. I want to us to be proud of what we can do,” he says.
His lieutenant in India Anant Maheshwari weighs in and states that Microsoft has plans to launch the new LTE models of the Surface tablet which have already arrived in China, though their arrival is gated by mass-market demand.
Nadella is also very happy about what Microsoft is doing with mixed reality, a buzzword it uses for virtual reality and even the tools that come included as a part of Windows.
“What we are doing in gaming that’s a consumer for consumer franchise. We have doubled down on it in a big way whether it is Xbox live or mixer, game pass, PC or console gaming,” he says.
He also says that there are 100 million people using the paint application on Windows machines which has been a staple of the operating system for decades. With the latest release of the operating system, he talks about how he’s proud that Microsoft is enabling painters to join the mixed reality bandwagon.