The rise of Satya Nadella, the game-changing CEO of Microsoft

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

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.

As 2016 draws to a close, Microsoft has found its groove again as a company that provides software and services to everyone, on any device – and is even starting to convert some Apple fans to Windows.

There’s still a lot that Microsoft needs to do. But we thought it’d be fun and interesting to take a look back at the life and career of Nadella, the CEO who is making it all happen at one of the biggest, most valuable technology companies on the planet.


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

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Shutterstock

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

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Getty Images/Ryan Pierse

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

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Wikimedia Commons

But the Manipal Institute of Technology didn’t have a real computer-science program, so he traveled to the US to attend the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, from which he graduated in 1990.

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University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

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

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Getty Images

Nadella joined Microsoft in 1992. Bill Gates was still the company’s CEO, and Windows had just begun its march to world domination.

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Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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

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Microsoft

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.

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The University of Chicago/Facebook

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

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Flickr/Mike Licht

In 2000, Microsoft got its second CEO: Steve Ballmer.

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REUTERS/B Mathur

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

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Microsoft

Nadella’s star just kept rising: By 2007, Nadella was senior vice president of Microsoft Online Services, which meant he was in command of the Bing search engine as well as early online versions of Microsoft Office and the Xbox Live gaming service.


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 centers, like Windows Server and the SQL Server database. But it also hosted one of Ballmer’s boldest gambles, the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

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Microsoft

When Nadella took over the server and tools business, it was doing $16.6 billion in revenue. By 2013, that was up to $20.3 billion.


By this point, Microsoft was running into trouble. On the PC side, Windows 8 was a disaster, the iPhone and Android were outrunning Windows phones by leaps and bounds, and Bing just couldn’t make a dent in Google’s search dominance. And Ballmer took the heat.

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REUTERS/Jason Redmond

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 and Bill Gates.

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Screenshot

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

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Microsoft

To entice Nadella to take the role, Microsoft’s board approved an $84 million first-year compensation package.

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Robert Galbraith/Reuters

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

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Business Insider/Julie Bort

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.

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Flickr/pixajen

“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.

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Microsoft

That includes once unthinkable things like embracing the rival Linux operating system by joining the nonprofit Linux Foundation …

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Microsoft

… releasing Microsoft Office for Apple’s iPad …

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PowerPoint for iPad.
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Karyne Levy/Business Insider

… spending $2.5 billion to buy Mojang, the studio behind the hit game “Minecraft” …

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Flickr/colmmcsky

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

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Devan Joseph

… skipping Windows 9 and going straight to the actually super great Windows 10 …

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BI

… introducing the Microsoft Surface Book, the company’s first laptop …

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

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

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Microsoft

Nadella’s whole philosophy is about 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’s vice president of business development, to help partner up with outside companies.

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Business Insider/Michael Seto

In fact, in 2015, Nadella used an iPhone onstage at an event to show off his favorite Microsoft apps.

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Business Insider

So, yeah. Nadella’s been busy. But investors love it: In late 2016, Microsoft stock hit its first new all-time high since 1999.

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REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Source: Business Insider


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

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@satyanadella, Twitter

It’s been a busy 2016 for Nadella, In June, Microsoft followed through with its plan to buy LinkedIn for $26.2 billion, in its largest single deal ever.

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Microsoft

And in October, Microsoft revealed the Surface Studio, its first PC.

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Microsoft

There are still challenges ahead: The Microsoft Windows business is flattening out, as people buy fewer PCs than they used to. And the company’s smartphone marketshare is a measly 1%, globally.


But after a long period of slowdown, Microsoft is finally moving in the right direction.

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Microsoft Channel 9