The rise of Microsoft's game-changing CEO, Satya Nadella

When Satya Nadella first took the reins as Microsoft CEO in February 2014, the company was losing steam fast.

Microsoft Windows 8 had been a disaster. Microsoft employees were constantly battling behind the scenes for supremacy. And all the while, consumers and developers alike were losing the faith.

Times change.

Now, in 2016, Microsoft has found its groove again as a company that provides software and services to everyone, on any device — and once-sceptical investors now believe the turnaround is real.

There’s still a lot that Microsoft needs to do. But take a look back at the life and career of Satya Nadella, the CEO who’s making it all happen.

Satya Narayana Nadella was born in Hyderabad, India, in 1967. His dad was a civil servant and his mother was a professor of the ancient language Sanskrit.


From a young age, Nadella wanted to be a professional cricket player, and played in school. But he realised that his athletic talent was outmatched by his passion for science and technology.

Getty Images/Ryan Pierse

Nadella received his bachelor's degree in electrical engineer from the Manipal Institute of Technology in 1988. 'I always knew I wanted to build things,' Nadella once said.

Wikimedia Commons

But they didn't have a real computer science program, so he travelled to the US to attend University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he graduated in 1990.

Photo: Supplied.

Now in the United States, Nadella would go on to work for Sun Microsystems, the legendary Silicon Valley computer server company.

Getty Images

In 1992, Nadella joined Microsoft. At the time, founder Bill Gates was still CEO, and Windows had just begun its march to world domination.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Nadella was one of only around 30 Indian immigrants working at the company. His first projects included Microsoft's ill-fated interactive TV product and the Windows NT operating system.

During his first years at Microsoft, Nadella impressed his coworkers and managers alike by commuting every weekend from Microsoft's campus in Redmond, Washington, all the way to the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business to finish his MBA. He'd finally graduate in 1997.

In 1999, Nadella landed his first executive role as vice president of Microsoft bCentral, a set of web services for small businesses that included hosted website hosting and email.

In 2001, Nadella rose to corporate VP of Microsoft Business Solutions. The group had been formed through a series of acquisitions, including Great Plains, which made accounting software for small and midsize businesses. The group was also building a cloud-based CRM system to compete with Salesforce. Eventually all these products would be rebranded as 'Dynamics.'

In February 2011, Nadella would get another promotion, this time to President of the Server and Tools Division. At the time, that group oversaw cash cow products for companies' data centres, like Windows Server and the SQL Server database. But it also hosted one of Ballmer's boldest gambles, the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

A Microsoft data center hosting the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

In August 2013, an embattled Ballmer announced that he'd be stepping down, prompting a search for a new CEO. The search committee included Ballmer himself and Bill Gates.

In February 2014, after much rumour and speculation, it was announced that Nadella would get the nod as the new CEO, with the support of Ballmer and Gates.

Nadella sent an email to employees when he first took the job.

Business Insider/Julie Bort
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

It said: 'I am 46. I've been married for 22 years and we have 3 kids. And like anyone else, a lot of what I do and how I think has been shaped by my family and my overall life experiences. Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. 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. So family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge all define me. '

Nadella has also compared programming code to poetry.

'You're trying to take something that can be described in many, many sentences and pages of prose, but you can convert it into a couple lines of poetry and you still get the essence, so it's that compression. The best code is poetry,' he said to Politico.

Nadella quickly won over Microsoft employees by making big changes, quickly, in an effort to right the course and win back customers.

That includes once-unthinkable things like embracing the rival Linux operating system on the Microsoft Azure cloud...

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

...releasing Microsoft Office for the Apple iPad...

Karyne Levy/Business Insider
PowerPoint for iPad

...spending $2.5 billion to buy Mojang, the studio behind hit game Minecraft...

...releasing first-class iPhone and Android apps like Microsoft Outlook...

Devan Joseph

...skipping Windows 9 to go straight to the actually super great Windows 10...


...introducing the Microsoft Surface Book, the company's first-ever laptop...

Matt Weinberger
The Microsoft Surface Book with Surface Pen.

...and, oh yeah, revealing the Microsoft HoloLens, the company's super-futuristic holographic goggles.


Nadella's whole philosophy is around partnering and making sure that Microsoft software and services are available wherever customers are -- even if that's not Windows. That's why his first big hire was ex-Qualcomm exec Peggy Johnson, now Microsoft VP of Business Development, to help partner up with outside companies.

Business Insider/Michael Seto

In fact, in 2015, Nadella used an iPhone on stage at an event to show off his favourite Microsoft apps.

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Satya Nadella demo on stage at Dreamforce 2015

So, yeah. Nadella's been busy. But investors love it: From 2014 to 2015, his first year, Microsoft stock jumped 14%. And then jumped another 21% in 2015.


Employees love him, too, talking about how he's brought the company together to tackle tough and worthwhile issues.

Going into 2016, Nadella still has plenty of challenges to tackle. Microsoft still struggles in the smartphone market. Shrinking PC sales are hampering Microsoft's Windows 10 ambitions. And the Xbox One video game console is struggling against the competing Sony PlayStation 4.

Business Insider/Julie Bort
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

But for the first time in a long time, things are looking up for Microsoft.

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