The New York Times scored the first in-depth interview with new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella I’ve seen since he got the job, and it’s sort of a mixed bag. I’ll try to avoid too-lengthy excerpts to show you what I mean. The first two questions involved his predecessors and company founders, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. Excerpts:
The most important one I learned from Steve happened two or three annual reviews ago. I sat down with him, and I remember asking him: “What do you think? How am I doing?” Then he said: “Look, you will know it, I will know it, and it will be in the air. So you don’t have to ask me, ‘How am I doing?’ At your level, it’s going to be fairly implicit.”
The outside world looks at it and says, “Whoa, this is some new thing.” But [Bill Gates and I have] worked closely for about nine years now. So I’m very comfortable with this, and I asked for a real allocation of his time. He is in fact making some pretty hard trade-offs to say, “O.K., I’ll put more energy into this.” And one of the fantastic things that only Bill can do inside this campus is to get everybody energized to bring their “A” game. It’s just a gift.
I’m not sure it was fair for the interviewer, Adam Bryant, to start off asking Nadella about the two elephants who won’t leave the living room, but that did give the impression that Nadella isn’t quite in charge yet. Especially given Nadella’s answers, which boil down to “Steve is demanding and Bill inspires people.”
That’s all well and good (?), but where does Nadella stand? He stands a bit like Apple’s Tim Cook, actually:
The thing I’m most focused on today is, how am I maximizing the effectiveness of the leadership team, and what am I doing to nurture it? A lot of people on the team were my peers, and I worked for some of them in the past. The framing for me is all about getting people to commit and engage in an authentic way, and for us to feel that energy as a team.
I’m not evaluating them on what they say individually. None of them would be on this team if they didn’t have some fantastic attributes. I’m only evaluating us collectively as a team. Are we able to authentically communicate, and are we able to build on each person’s capabilities to the benefit of our organization?
There’s an observation I’ve mentioned before, which I still can’t find the link to, about Steve Jobs and Cook. Jobs style towards product design was essentially dictatorial, even ruthless. Cook’s approach is collaborative. You might say the same thing about Ballmer and Nadella, based on that last answer. Ballmer was the screaming, top-down boss, while Nadella is the team-builder.
The difference is that Jobs left Cook one very well-oiled machine to run — and Cook himself is the one who applied much of the oil. Nadella has inherited a company who’s previous boss missed almost every boat over the last 14 years, despite standing on a billion-dollar pier.
So I’ll give Nadella the last words:
Longevity in this business is about being able to reinvent yourself or invent the future. In our case, given 39 years of success, it’s more about reinvention. We’ve had great successes, but our future is not about our past success. It’s going to be about whether we will invent things that are really going to drive our future.
One of the things that I’m fascinated about generally is the rise and fall of everything, from civilizations to families to companies. We all know the mortality of companies is less than human beings. There are very few examples of even 100-year old companies. For us to be a 100-year old company where people find deep meaning at work, that’s the quest.