Yesterday evening, new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sat for an hour and a half interview at the Code Conference in Southern California.
He was followed on stage by actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who read a speech about how she doesn’t like being bullied on the internet. Then came Google cofounder Sergey Brin, who wore Crocs and showed off Google’s new self-driving car.
Code editors Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher interviewed Nadella and Brin, hounding both with follow-up questions that refused to let either off the hook.
This was Nadella’s opportunity to deliver a powerful statement about how he was going to run Microsoft. He’s only been CEO for ~100 days now. This was his first public grilling by journalists.
In the audience sat hundreds of high-powered technology industry executives.
After, at a dinner under a tent, an afterparty, and an after-afterparty, that crowd passed verdicts on those who were on stage.
Here’s the consensus of the armchair quarterbacks:
- Satya Nadella did not do well.
- Everyone was impressed with Nadella’s personal story about growing up in India and raising two children with special needs.
- When asked whether he supported the acquisition of Nokia, he deftly demurred (implying that he didn’t). But he didn’t say what his plan was for the company.
- When Nadella did have something to explain, like his vision for a “post-post-PC” era, he wasn’t sharp about it. For example, Nadella said his version was for a Microsoft built around “more personal computing” meant four things. He only hit two of his bullets before Kara and Walt interrupted him and moved on.
- One long-time Microsoft veteran said that this was the worst stage performance he’d ever seen from Nadella.
- Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, the interviewers, probably kept him on stage too long. An hour and a half with someone who doesn’t want to say anything?
- Nadella should have followed Apple CEO Tim Cook’s lead from last year and have been more upfront and direct about not wanting to answer certain questions. Instead, he danced around and it was awkward and slow.
- Nadella was clearly uncomfortable. By the end, he was foot-tapping and twitching hard.
- One PR veteran said that Microsoft made a mistake doing a live demonstration of its real-time translation service for Skype. Video is always better, she said. Lots of people on Twitter, however, said they thought the demo went well and was very cool.
- For some interminable amount of time (10 minutes? 20 minutes? 30?) Gwyneth Paltrow stood up in front of the huge crowd and complained about being objectified in social media.
She read a long speech from printed-out paper. Why didn’t she use a deck? Why didn’t she go over her presentation with the Code people? Why didn’t the Code people coach her up? Why’d she go on so long?
- More than a few attendees, men and women, thought that rich, considering her very short hemline, and the fact that she was only stage because she’s a big Hollywood name.
- The consensus was that Sergey Brin did great. “It’s nice to be a billionaire and get to show up in yoga pants to a conference that costs a mint to attend.”
- Sergey was good at dodging questions. When journalist Jessica Lessin stood up and asked him why Google was hiring so many people with expertise in satellites, Brin answered in the perfect, believable, dry tone that Google was currently operating a million satellites. This was just moments after he’d rolled-tape on Google’s new self-driving car, and it seemed very believable.
- Then Brin said: Just kidding. Then, in a way that made you feel Google was working on something to do with satellites, he said he had “nothing to announce on satellites.” Then he said Google had to finish its fembots project first. You didn’t know what was true. It was pitch perfect.
- Brin offered cogent thoughts on a recent European ruling about “the right to be forgotten” and patent reform. He talked candidly about being glad that his cofounder, Larry Page, had to be CEO and deal with regulation.
- Brin won people over saying that it was a mistake that he’d ever been involved in the development of Google Plus. “I’m not a very social person,” he said.
- One person observed that the difference between Satya and Sergey was that Satya is a manager and Sergey is an owner. He’s worth $31 billion, and the money is still coming in. He’s in a pretty secure position and it showed in his comfort on stage.
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